In 1970 William Wyler and scriptwriter Jesse Hill Ford purveyed a sturdy film about poisonous race relations in the 1960s South—The Liberation of L.B. Jones. Herein, a rich black undertaker, L.B. Jones (Roscoe Lee Browne), is determined to divorce his floozy wife (Lola Falana) for regularly sleeping with a white policeman (Anthony Zerbe). L.B.’s powerful lawyer, Oman Hedgepath (Lee J. Cobb), is a not-very-demonstrative racist bothered that a trial will destroy the white cop’s reputation in the community and so he warns the man, a demonstrative racist, about it. Horror ensues.
Based on Ford’s novel, the film is about racial pride and its fruit of injustice. Wyler made it as disturbing as The Collector. Certifiably it is not irrelevant to 2022 but, thank Heaven, it ain’t the Jayland Walker story either. Walker was shot to death after leading cops on a high-speed car chase and allegedly firing a gun from the car’s window. What goes on in L.B. Jones is far graver; it is genuine racism.
The movie has minor flaws—example: Browne and Lee Majors are boring actors here—and many virtues. It should be seen. It was, alas, Wyler’s last film.