Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

This week was apparently obscure 1970’s Black movie week for me with yesterday’s viewing of the Fred Williamson vehicle… sigh… ‘Boss Nigger’ and today’s viewing of a film that is probably just as little known as that glorious slice of ignorance to most, but not to me in ‘The Spook who Sat by the Door’. I had read author Sam Greenlee’s book in High School, but not as some kind of required reading for a class… please… but as a gift given to me by one of my uncles. These are the kinds of gifts I got, Eldridge Cleaver’s ‘Soul on Ice’, James Baldwin’s ‘Soul on Fire’ and the like. As a kid I had Malcolm X children’s books and other light children’s reading like ‘The men who killed Martin’. You had ‘A Cat in the Hat’, I had ‘John Henry’. With a hammer in his hand baby. Though I had read Greenlee’s ‘The Spook’ I had never seen the film, so my hat’s off to Monarch for creating a thirtieth anniversary special DVD for the ‘Spook who sat by Door’.

It’s the early 1970’s and the keyword is integration. Under pressure the from the U.S. senate, the Central Intelligence Agency as been mandated to, at the very least, train some potential African American recruits to join their ranks. Through a rigorous weeding out process the Agency has 10 recruits who will go through more training with the plan along to fail them all, and have on record that they at least tried, but they weren’t planning on Dan Freeman (the late Lawrence Cook). Freeman is almost invisible, doesn’t keep company with his fellow recruits and scores high in most of the physical and mental tests which has him labeled as an Uncle Tom by his colleagues, not that he seems to care much. Sure enough Freeman is the only one who makes it to the end of the training to graduation where will assume his post as the Chief of the CIA’s Top Secret replication bureau, or head Xerox man.

Five years later, after performing his various jobs admirably, receiving minor promotions and being called a ‘credit to his race’ by his superiors, Freeman resigns his position and heads back home to Chicago to be a ‘Social Worker’. Actually Freeman is taking all of his training, all of the knowledge he picked up in his days at the CIA to form the Black Freedom Party, in which he transfers all these high level skills to a group of disenfranchised Black men with the plans of striking a blow to their white oppressors and force them to recognize his peoples need to be REALLY free. He has also sent his top trainees to other major metropolitan areas to do the same. Kind of like a McDonalds franchise for revolutionaries. When it hits, it hits hard. The authorities don’t know who is behind these highly organized strikes, only that he goes by the name of Uncle Tom. Freeman’s good friend, or should I say ‘number one man’ as it was so eloquently put 1970’s style, is police officer Dawson (J.A Preston) and he has no idea that the outwardly Bourgeoisie Freeman is the man behind this madness, though his long time girlfriend Joy (Janet League) has her suspicions. Since the white establishment is convinced that some communist white Russian is the organizing force behind this deadly uprising, and in the process have convinced themselves that eliminating this commie will result in the negroes becoming confused and disorganized again, it would appear that Dan Freeman’s plan cannot fail.

When a soldier is lying on the ground bleeding to death whining ‘why me’ and one of the revolutionaries, while relieving him of his weapons responds with ‘It’s war honky’, this let’s you know exactly what kind of film you have with the extremely powerful and controversial ‘The Spook who sat by the Door’. This is a film that is best watched with as many people as possible as it will undoubtedly spark some passionate discussion. Were this film more popular, Lawrence Cook’s Dan Freeman would be the character of a cinematic legend along the lines of Rhett Butler, Popeye Doyle, or a William Wallace in that he’s not necessarily a heroic figure but a man who is so convinced in what he’s doing is right, and the fact that he would do anything and sacrifice anybody, including himself to bring what he feels is the only logical conclusion to his struggle, and that’s freedom. Don’t stop fighting until you’re free or until you die. I would even surmise that the character of Morpheus from ‘The Matrix’ was modeled after Dan Freeman as their qualities are identical.

Aside from the incendiary subject matter ‘The Spook’ is also a marvelously entertaining film, as directed by long time ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ cast member Ivan Dixon. Since it’s a seventies film just hearing the colorful language of that time is always a treat, ‘I told that cat to give me my bread’ the prostitute as played by Paula Kelly would say. The content of the dialog was rich, sharp, witty and at times poignant and usually right in your face. Listening to author Sam Greenlee on the DVD extras, still ready to burn it down at the ripe old age of 74, and hearing him tell of the challenges of making this film and the joys involved in those challenges, was outstanding. To know that this film was shot ‘guerilla style’ and seeing the end product is nothing less than inspiring.

‘The Spook who sat by the Door’ is less of a film and more of an ‘experience’, and I mean that sincerely. It is a work of fiction, and I’d even go so far to say it’s almost Science Fiction as it is basically dealing with an alternate reality, but it is one hell of a challenging work of fiction that really should be seen by as many people as possible. Splendid!

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