Journo pally: “Last night I watched William Wyler‘s final film — The Liberation of L.B. Jones (’70). It’s about a staid, small-town, African-American funeral home owner (Roscoe Lee Browne) who wants to divorce his hot wife (Lola Falana) because she’s having an affair with a white cop (Anthony Zerbe).

“The powers-that-be in the small Southern town want the whole thing to go away, and put pressure on Browne’s character to drop the suit. He refuses, with tragic results.

“It’s hard to imagine what Wyler was thinking when he decided to take on this project, but what emerged was a lurid, violent melodrama that’s somewhere between a blaxploitation film and a civil rights message pic (Yaphet Kotto also pops up as a black avenger). It’s a mess — a fascinating one, the kind you can’t take your eyes off, but still a mess.

“Wyler is one of the great directors of the old Hollywood system, a man who made a number of undying classics, and won a ton of awards. Yet his final film might be the worst movie he ever made. How many other major directors have ended their careers with a stinker?

Lee Majors and Barbara Hershey play a white couple related to Lee J. Cobb, who’s sort of the film’s super-villain, and they’re supposed to be the white liberal conscience of the film, but are basically given nothing to do. And the film features two stereotypical racist white cops — Zerbe and Arch Johnson — who could have come out of any Fred Williamson flick. The craft is fine, although nothing special. Competent. But far from Wyler’s best.”

Wiki excerpt: “The screenplay by Jesse Hill Ford and Stirling Silliphant is based on Ford’s 1965 novel ‘The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones’. The novel, in turn, was based on events that happened in a Southern town where Ford lived. Post-publication he was verbally attacked for writing about same. The motion picture’s release added to the controversy, especially in Humboldt, Tennessee, where Ford lived.”