Saturday, February 27, 2021

Deliver Us from Evil (1975)

          The last of three well-intentioned but hopelessly amateurish melodramas that writer/producer/director Horace Jackson made about the African-American experience, Deliver Us from Evil (later reissued as Joey) crams a hell of a lot of story into 96 minutes. Very broadly, the picture concerns the fateful intersection of a tormented man, a disabled child, a socially conscious grade-school recreation director, and a gang of drug-dealing thugs. There’s also a subplot about a young woman who appears in stage shows that dramatize troubles bedeviling her community, plus another subplot about a white cop struggling to understand systemic racism. Even a filmmaker of sublime storytelling ability would have difficulty balancing this many disparate elements. Jackson, despite his obvious desire to edify audiences, is not a filmmaker of sublime storytelling ability. Quite the opposite. Deliver Us from Evil sloppily connects badly constructed scenes, so not only is it difficult to track the narrative, it’s hard to take any single moment seriously because the writing, directing, and acting are substandard.

          After Chris (Renny Roker) is released from a mental institution, he encounters awful racists everywhere, so he’s understandably edgy. One day while driving, he spots a woman named Mindy (Marie O’Henry), who is stranded with car trouble, so he offers her a ride. Yet because Chris drives like a maniac, Mindy demands to leave his car. Upon doing so, she slaps Chris, so he chases her to a house where she visits wheelchair-bound Little Joe (Danny Martin), one of the students at the school where she works. Subsequently, Chris befriends Little Joe and starts dating a friend of Mindy’s. Meanwhile, a local street gang begins selling drugs at Mindy’s school, so she stands up to them, causing gang members beat Mindy and Little Joe. You get the idea. In trying to address a laundry list of social issues, Jackson creates an experience that’s confusing, grim, and preachy. (In one scene, Little Joe demonstrates his newfound ability to recite the Lord’s Prayer.)

          By the time Deliver Us from Evil climaxes with a nonsensical act of violence and a direct-to-camera speech about the futility of black-on-black violence, Jackson has fully succumbed to his worst inclinations, sacrificing narrative cohesion for ungainly rhetoric. It’s a pity, because while Jackson had many worthwhile things to say, he never found effective ways of saying them.

Deliver Us from Evil: FUNKY


Allen Rubinstein said...

Peter, found a new one for you. Not only that, but from the reviews I'm looking at on Letterboxd, people seem to actually like it. Imagine that - you've still got a good one left to screen!

Fear is the Key (1972, Michael Tuchner)
It’s utterly baffling to me how under-seen this film is, cause man this one’s got it all. You’ve got the director of Villain, a killer car chase featuring an awesome Ford Gran Torino Sport, and non other than Barry Newman as Talbot (from Vanishing Point) behind the wheel.

BillyWitchDoctor said...

Unf, yes. The Roy Budd score for Fear is the Key is incredible.

Eric Colin said...

Great movie, but despite the American cast it was a British film. I'm guessing that's why it never got a review here.

By Peter Hanson said...

Regarding "Fear Is the Key," Eric's correct that I haven't reviewed it (yet) because it's a UK film and the focus of this blog is movies either completely or partially produced by American companies. That said, I've looked at a few of the minor Alistair MacLean adaptations and/or screen originals ("When Eight Bells Toll" was pleasant to watch), so I may find my way to this one eventually. Keep the suggestions coming, though!