by Elijah de Castro
Created during the early 1970’s emergence of the blaxploitation subgenre, “…Tick… Tick… Tick…” has narrative similarities to Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” (1974). Both films criticize the state of affairs in traditional American racial relations through liberating our hero out of hardship. While “Blazing Saddles” balances the weight of its agenda with self-referential humor, “…Tick… Tick… Tick…” is fearless, bursting forth with the courage to tell its story seriously and deliberately, without watering down its own importance.
“…Tick… Tick… Tick…” follows an African American man named Jim Price, (played by NFL player Jim Brown) who after defeating his white incumbent, is elected sheriff of a small, lazy town in the deep south. This narrative is nothing new for racially challenging films of the time period, it being an easy way of creating conflict within this type of southern community. Nonetheless, Ralph Nelson directs the film to include layers of conflict that stretch beyond the reach of the main character.
Price’s incumbent, John Little, is not the sore loser that the film would make him out to be. He treats his loss with honor and dignity, rather than siding with the men around him who sorely push against Price because he is a black man. Little, losing respect from the citizens of the town he once protected, represents a force of respect for democracy that draws the line between good and evil.
Price himself, apart from his own skirmishes with the bigoted men who oppose his election, faces complex pressure. His values as a man of color and as a law enforcement officer are at battle with each other. Does he chose to stand down or stand up to the mob mentality of the racist town? Does he let the lies and deceit they bombard against him corrupt his work?
The films liberation of men of color within the southern community extends beyond just Price, as he recruits men of color as new officers in his police force. The film is not surface level in its legitimization of men of color as officers of the law, pulling more people in from the community, challenging their preexisting prejudices.
“…Tick… Tick… Tick…” is all about time. Of course, the title suggests this, however, this motif runs quiet and intentionally, in every area of the film. It manifests itself not in the scene to scene suspense, but in the themes of racial tension and progressive leadership the film wears on its sleeve. It’s complexity is in how it addresses the expiration of racist leadership and the values attributed to the suppression of people of color leading communities.