Starring: Julian Mayfield, Max Julien, Raymond St. Jacques and Ruby Dee
Rated: Non-Rated Drama, Thriller
Set in Cleveland, Ohio during 1968, Uptight is centered upon Tank (Julian Mayfield), an African-American man who previously worked at a local steel mill. Single, poorly-educated, formerly-convicted and unemployed, his excessive drinking allows him to temporarily escape from his harsh reality. He is unable to support himself or take care of his lady friend, Laurie (Ruby Dee), and her two young children. The only thing he seems to have achieved is his life-long friendship with Johnny Wells (Max Julien), which he holds dear. Johnny is handsome, wise, charismatic and brave.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been assassinated and there is urban unrest throughout the world, including Cleveland. Johnny, who has organized his own group of Black revolutionaries, includes Tank in his plans to break into a local armory warehouse to steal weapon for their own revolution.
However, when Johnny and his men arrive to retrieve Tank, they find him drunk, completely unable to perform his task in their forthcoming robbery. Further complicating Tank’s involvement is his belief in King’s approach of nonviolence. The brutal murder of the civil rights leader and Johnny’s plans for rebellion are too much for Tank, who is left behind by Johnny and his crew.
Unfortunately, the robbery goes awry and Johnny soon becomes a fugitive. When Tank learns of the events that transpired, he meets with B.G. (Raymond St. Jacques), another leader of Johnny’s group, and Jeanie (Janet MacLachlan), Johnny’s sister. Seeking work, B.G., Jeanie and other members in attendance reject Tank, as they vehemently hold him responsible for Johnny being wanted by law enforcement.
Greatly depressed, he is met by Daisy (Roscoe Lee Brown), a dandy informant for the local police. Inviting Tank to his home, he blackmails Tank, showing him that he has a photograph of him fighting police officers. Then presenting an image of a “Wanted” poster featuring a $1,000.00 reward for Johnny, Daisy reveals that he won’t give the police Tank’s identity if he provides information on Johnny.
Adding to his spiral downward is a visit with Laurie, which ends terribly. Feeling completely lost, he begins walking home. En route, he is approached by Johnny, who is hiding in the shadows. Waiting for Tank, Johnny lets him know that he does not hold Tank responsible for the botched bank job. He also shares with him that he has to see his mother, Mama Wells (Juanita Moore), before going on the run and gives him an important message to share with B.G. and their Black revolutionary group.
Renewed with hope, Tank seeks to turn his life of misfortune into something better. Will he be able to finally attain happiness, worth and success … and at what costs? Viewers will want to see how this “uptight” situation turns out to be for best friends Tank and Johnny!
Uptight, sometimes seen as Up Tight!, was based upon the 1925 novel, The Informer, by Irish best-selling author Liam O’Flaherty. This work was set in the 1920s during the Irish War of Independence and is centered upon the Irish rebelling against English rule. The novel was first used as the basis of the film, The Informer, a British version, that was released in 1929.
The American version of The Informer involved a screenplay adapted by Dudley Nichols and was directed by John Ford. Starring Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster and Margot Grahame, it was released in 1935. Critically-acclaimed, The Informer won four Oscar Awards: John Ford for “Best Director”; Dudley Nichols for “Best Writing Screenplay”; Victor McLaglen for “Best Actor”; and “Best Score”.
In 2018, The Informer was installed on the National Film Registry. In 1989, the National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) created the National Film Registry in order to select films worthy of preservation. As per their literature, the NFPB annually selects “up to 25 culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films … with a mission to ensure the survival, conservation, and increased public availability of America’s film heritage.”
Uptight, which featured a soundtrack by Booker T and the MGs, was produced and directed by Jules Dassin. Also an actor and writer, Dassin was a member of the Communist Party USA. Condemned and ostracized, he was placed on Hollywood’s blacklist.
His principles and views led him to immediately relate to the vast commonalities of the Irish’s fight against the English in the 1920s and that of African-Americans’ battle during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Dassin decided to convert The Informer into a film that contained the shared commonalities in the struggle for freedom. Posited from an African-American vantage, his film, Uptight, was set in an inner city in the United States. He designated the assassination of Rev. Dr. King, Jr. as the impetus of events in Uptight.
Uptight has been critically-received since its opening in New York City in 1968. Film critic extraordinaire Roger Ebert felt it had little to do with Dassin’s inspiration, The Informer. He cited that the similarities of methods and styles of the Irish and Black revolutions were very few. He also felt that Dassin’s direction was too artistic and that the film’s backgrounds were too stylized.
However, in his review of Uptight, he regaled that the film “is a forthright treatment of Black militancy. Somewhat to my surprise, it doesn’t chicken out. There’s no backsliding, toward a conciliatory moderate conclusion. The passions and beliefs of Black militants are presented head-on, with little in the way of comfort for White liberals. White racists, I guess, will be horrified beyond measure. Good for them.”
Ebert also shared an account of one his friends, who was White. He had viewed Uptight in the theater and was disturbed at the Black audience members’ cheers of a White guy being hit. The critic shared his insight, emphasizing, “This should have been an educational experience, providing our side with the same sort of feeling that Blacks have had for years when a Black guy got hit. Or had to shuffle. Or had to squeeze inside the Stephin’ Fetchit stereotype. Uptight finishes those days forever.”
Originally financed and release by Paramount, Uptight was released on DVD by Olive Films in 2012.