Director John Korty brings us this 1986 movie starring the ever wonderful John Lithgow, later to find fame in “Third Rock From The Sun”, Morgan Freeman who needs no introduction and Richard Brooks. Lithgow appears as Major Laird, an army officer who, in 1972, finds himself accompanying the corpse of one of his young officers back to his hometown for burial. However, the problem is that the community of Rockvilleis predominantly white and the local cemetery is reserved for Caucasians only.
As you might expect the officer was black, the son of the characters played by Morgan Freeman and CCH Pounder, Luther and Ada Johnson. The local sheriff though somewhat sympathetic, is adamant that the rules shall not be changed, even for a military hero and so the film deals with the issues that were still extremely prevalent in 1972. Despite the fact that there were laws made to ensure equal rights for all, it seems that some were still more equal than others. A repulsive state of affairs but nevertheless a true rendition of the prejudices that many blacks still faced and indeed do face to this day.
The leads throw themselves into the story with great gusto but also with feeling and sensitivity. Nothing is trivialised here, there are points to be made and they are made with strength and power. It is a tale of the fading strength of white supremacy and the emergence of a more equal society, inevitably encountering resistance from the old guard who are either set in their ways and scared of change or are simply pure bred racists. As you might expect, Morgan Freeman is exemplary in his role of the beleaguered father who fights for the rights of his son to be buried in the town he loved, but it is Lithgow who steals the show as the conflicted major. This isn’t a movie that sets pout to preach, the story and characters are absorbing and well portrayed, but it is one of those movies that certainly packs a punch and makes for challenging viewing. Highly recommended and one that deserves to be seen far more widely.