A remake of John Ford's 1935 film The Informer, Jules Dassin's 1968 film Uptight (also known as Up Tight!) takes the story Ford had told thirty-three years prior and gives it an all black cast and an inner city location to give the movie its own identity. Where Ford's movie dealt with the betrayal of some Irish revolutionaries, Dessin's picture draws some interesting parallels between the plights suffered by those characters and the plights suffered by black Americans in the sixties.
Shot on location in Cleveland, which had its fair share of racial problems in the sixties, actually begins with some footage of Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral procession before then cutting very directly to some inner city scenes where we meet some black revolutionaries, lead by B.G. (Raymond St. Jacques), who have eschewed King's peaceful ideologies for more radical solutions to their problems. One of the men, Johnny Wells (Max Julien), is hiding from the cops after killing a security guard while the hard drinking Tank Williams (Julian Mayfield) tries to figure out what to do with his life now that he's been laid off from the factory, much to the dismay of his girlfriend, Laurie (Ruby Dee), who has a child to take care of. When his money troubles only compound with no obvious end in sight, Tank winds up playing stool pigeon to a gay black cop named Clarence (Roscoe Lee Browne) and rats out the details of Johnny's whereabouts for a petty one thousand dollar reward.
Shot by cinematographer Boris Kaufman Uptight is an interesting looking film that might have actually worked better in black and white than it does in color. The ghetto locations used for the picture actually wind up looking almost a little too stagey for their own good at times, but then we occasionally get these powerful shots that look like they could have been lifted out of a classic film noir like Dessin's classic Rififi. Locations are important to the film, we need to know how claustrophobic things are for the lead characters for some of their actions to make sense and there are times where the movie doesn't quite pull this off. Overall though, it is a sharp looking picture shot with some appreciable style and which showcases some impressive camerawork that does an impressive job of showing off the Cleveland of the late sixties.
Politically speaking, the film pulls no punches. The few white characters in the film are without sympathy, case in point a scene where Tank discusses in his own terms the black revolution that is coming to some white guys who have gone into an arcade for some fun. When this scene occurs we view it in a distorted frame almost as if to say it doesn't matter what Tank says to these guys, they're not going to pay him any attention. The film provokes intentionally, though it is well paced and set to an effective soundtrack courtesy of Booker T And The MGs. Violence is a part of the film because it is a part of the world that it depicts and it is used rather powerfully here to snap us to attention when it calls us. The film is interesting, given Dessin's background, in how it deals with blacklisted characters and it's an understandably angry picture in pretty much every way you could imagine.
Like most sixties films dealing with a counter culture of sorts, aspects of Uptight are a bit dated but you can't fault the picture for being a product of its time. What is impressive about the film is just how well the performances hold up here. Raymond St. Jacques has an imposing screen presence and fits the bill well, while Ruby Dee's plight is well played by the sympathetic actress. Julian Mayfield is great as the least intelligent one in the group and the one who sets all of this into motion, while Max Julien steals the show and you've got to figure the reason he's better remembered for The Mack than for this movie is because Uptight was more or less buried by Paramount once it was finished while The Mack got a wide release and did great box office. The movie goes at a remarkable pace and pulls no punches. This is not a film about redemption, this is not a film that will make you feel good and this is not a film lacking in visceral power or social commentary. It's not surprising it was more or less suppressed as long as it was, and now that it's available on DVD and Blu-ray, it's a film worth seeing.
Uptight arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 transfer in 1080p high definition. Like other transfers from Olive Films, this Blu-ray has been mastered from elements that appear to have been in very nice shape but which haven't been given any sort of massive restoration. There's a fair bit of grain, as there should be, and some mild print damage but overall the image looks fine. Detail is good, texture as well, and the colors hold up quite well here too. A few minor nicks and scratches could have probably been cleaned up but otherwise there isn't much to complain about in terms of the presentation here.
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track, in English, with no alternate language options or subtitles of any kind provided. The audio here, overall, is fine. The dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems understanding the performers throughout the movie. The score, which is a very important part of the movie and which at times really drives the plot, sounds very good and quite powerful but doesn't bury any of the dialogue. There are no issues with any serious hiss or distortion. The audio here isn't fancy, but it's fine.
There are no extras, just a static menu offering chapter selection - that's it.
Uptight shoots first and asks questions later. It's not a perfect film but it is very well made and it winds up being as thought provoking as it is exciting and on top of that it does an interesting job of reflecting the tensions felt around the country at the time it was made. Olive Films haven't given the film any contextual extras, and that's a shame because a picture like this cries out for them, but it does at least present the film in nice shape. As such, it comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.