The Liberation of L. B. Jones (1970)

R | 102 mins | Melodrama | 18 March 1970

Director:

William Wyler

Producer:

Ronald Lubin

Cinematographer:

Robert Surtees

Production Designer:

Kenneth A. Reid

Production Company:

Liberation Co.
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HISTORY

Jesse Hill Ford, author of the 1965 novel upon which the film was based, was said to make his feature film acting debut in a scene set in a small-town mayor’s office, as noted in the 29 Jul 1969 LAT.
       Producers Ronald Lubin and Malcolm Stuart acquired screen rights to Ford’s novel, The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones, shortly after it was published by Atlantic-Little Brown in Jun 1965, according to a 28 Sep 1965 DV news item. The film adaptation was set to be a co-production between Lubin’s Harvest Productions and Stuart’s Coldwater Productions. However, the two were unable to interest major studios and Stuart left the project. The following year, a 20 Mar 1966 NYT article announced that Ronald Lubin was now collaborating with screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, who planned to adapt the novel as a stage play first, to drum up interest in the film. They reportedly obtained stage and screen rights for upwards of $100,000. Over two years later, the 1 Aug 1968 DV stated that the film adaptation was moving forward at Columbia Pictures, with William Wyler set to direct as part of an exclusive, six-picture deal he’d recently made with the studio.
       As noted in a 17 Mar 1969 DV brief, Henry Fonda was considered for a role, but he was unable to join the production due to scheduling conflicts with There Was a Crooked Man… (1970, see entry). The 22 Apr 1969 DV also indicated that Diana Darrin was tested for a role.
       Principal photography began on 21 May 1969 in Jesse Hill Ford’s hometown ... More Less

Jesse Hill Ford, author of the 1965 novel upon which the film was based, was said to make his feature film acting debut in a scene set in a small-town mayor’s office, as noted in the 29 Jul 1969 LAT.
       Producers Ronald Lubin and Malcolm Stuart acquired screen rights to Ford’s novel, The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones, shortly after it was published by Atlantic-Little Brown in Jun 1965, according to a 28 Sep 1965 DV news item. The film adaptation was set to be a co-production between Lubin’s Harvest Productions and Stuart’s Coldwater Productions. However, the two were unable to interest major studios and Stuart left the project. The following year, a 20 Mar 1966 NYT article announced that Ronald Lubin was now collaborating with screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, who planned to adapt the novel as a stage play first, to drum up interest in the film. They reportedly obtained stage and screen rights for upwards of $100,000. Over two years later, the 1 Aug 1968 DV stated that the film adaptation was moving forward at Columbia Pictures, with William Wyler set to direct as part of an exclusive, six-picture deal he’d recently made with the studio.
       As noted in a 17 Mar 1969 DV brief, Henry Fonda was considered for a role, but he was unable to join the production due to scheduling conflicts with There Was a Crooked Man… (1970, see entry). The 22 Apr 1969 DV also indicated that Diana Darrin was tested for a role.
       Principal photography began on 21 May 1969 in Jesse Hill Ford’s hometown of Humboldt, TN (fictionalized as “Somerton, Tennessee”), according to a DV production chart published two days later. Two weeks of location shooting in Humboldt were followed by a company move to the Columbia Pictures studio lot in Hollywood, CA, where the remainder of the film was shot. On 15 Jul 1969, DV reported that production was just completed ten days under schedule and under budget.
       A slight title change, from The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones to The Liberation of L. B. Jones, was announced in the 15 Jan 1970 DV. The world premiere was set to take place on 18 Mar 1970 at New York City’s Loew’s State 2 and Pacific East theaters, as noted in the 11 Mar 1970 Var. The film opened one day later, on 19 Mar 1970, in Los Angeles, CA. Despite mixed reviews, Lola Falana received a Golden Globe Award nomination for New Star of the Year – Actress. A year-end box-office chart in the 6 Jan 1971 Var listed The Liberation of L. B. Jones as one of the "Big Rental Films of 1970," citing its cumulative domestic box-office rentals as $1.3 million.
       The picture’s racially charged subject matter was met with concern, as noted in an 18 Dec 1969 Los Angeles Sentinel brief. Some white viewers who attended advance screenings reportedly feared the picture might start a “race riot.” On 2 May 1970, NYT reported that two pipe bombs had exploded consecutively in two theaters at Loew’s Paradise Theatre in the Bronx, NY, the previous evening. One of the two films was The Liberation of L. B. Jones; the other was Cactus Flower (1969, see entry), which was not about race relations. Eleven people were injured. The film also proved controversial at some U.S. Army bases, where “disturbances” were reported after several screenings. It was eventually banned at U.S. Army bases throughout Europe, according to the 3 Jun 1971 Los Angeles Sentinel.
       Nine months after the picture’s U.S. debut, Jesse Hill Ford shot and killed George Henry Doakes, a twenty-one-year-old black man who had driven onto his driveway and whom he allegedly believed was there to harass his teenage son, Charles. An article in the 23 Nov 1970 NYT quoted Ford as saying “[Doakes] was in a perfect ambush spot to get Charles.” Ford claimed to have fired his gun only to stop Doakes’s car from driving away, and noted that he and his family had been the target of much local ire, due to the content of his writing and his outspoken stance on racial inequality in Humboldt. Ford was charged with murder. Following a five-day trial, he was acquitted. He later took his own life. His obituary in the 5 Jun 1996 NYT suggested Ford may never have recovered from the trial.
       The Liberation of L. B. Jones marked the final feature film directed by William Wyler. Timothy Sims served as Wyler’s executive assistant on the film, and Vincent Tubbs acted as unit publicist, and, according to items in the 14 Aug 1968 DV and 8 May 1969 Los Angeles Sentinel. The following actors were named as cast members in various DV, LAT, and Los Angeles Sentinel items published between Jun and Jul 1969: Chester Jones; Sharon Bailey; Anna Mayberry; Henry Kingi; Warren McGowan; John Garcia; Paul Sears; Richard Lewis; Francois Andre; Daniel Elam; Oliver Hartwell; Robert Jefferson; William Washington; Edward Short; Ardie Overstreet; Barnetta Fowler; Marie Janisse; Jeanette Cummings; Sandra Jones; Yvette Thompson; Agnes Lloyd; Versie Young; Marcia Alford; Martha Washington; Suzie Robinson; Charles Bastin; Michael Jeffers; Michael Lally; Paul Bradley; Philip Harron; Edward Haskett; Murray Pollack ; Gary Wright; Bernice Smith; Jimmy Fields; and Robert Jefferson. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
28 Sep 1965
p. 2.
Daily Variety
1 Aug 1968
p. 1, 11.
Daily Variety
14 Aug 1968
p. 3.
Daily Variety
26 Feb 1969
p. 3.
Daily Variety
17 Mar 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
22 Apr 1969
p. 10.
Daily Variety
15 May 1969
p. 16.
Daily Variety
23 May 1969
p. 10.
Daily Variety
29 May 1969
p. 11.
Daily Variety
6 Jun 1969
p. 4.
Daily Variety
10 Jun 1969
p. 4.
Daily Variety
13 Jun 1969
p. 4.
Daily Variety
7 Jul 1969
p. 4.
Daily Variety
8 Jul 1969
p. 4.
Daily Variety
15 Jul 1969
p. 2.
Daily Variety
15 Jan 1970
p. 2.
Daily Variety
5 Feb 1970
p. 2.
Daily Variety
10 Mar 1970
p. 3, 10.
Daily Variety
20 Mar 1970
p. 3.
Los Angeles Sentinel
29 Aug 1968
Section D, p. 2.
Los Angeles Sentinel
8 May 1969
Section D, p. 5.
Los Angeles Sentinel
19 Jun 1969
Section B, p. 7.
Los Angeles Sentinel
24 Jun 1969
Section E, p. 5.
Los Angeles Sentinel
24 Jul 1969
Section E, p. 5.
Los Angeles Sentinel
3 Jun 1971
Section B, p. 1A.
Los Angeles Sentinel
18 Dec 1969
Section E, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
7 Jul 1969
Section C, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
29 Jul 1969
Section C, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
15 Mar 1970
Section P, p. 1, 18.
Los Angeles Times
18 Nov 1970
Section A, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
4 Jul 1971.
---
New York Times
20 Mar 1966.
---
New York Times
2 May 1970.
---
New York Times
23 Nov 1970.
---
New York Times
5 Jul 1971
p. 6.
New York Times
5 Jun 1996.
---
Variety
20 Jul 1966
p. 68.
Variety
11 Mar 1970
p. 19.
Variety
6 Jan 1971
p. 11.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A William Wyler-Ronald Lubin Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2nd unit dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam asst
2nd unit photog
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATOR
COSTUMES
Ward
Ward
MUSIC
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
Stills
Unit pub
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones by Jesse Hill Ford (Boston, 1965).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones
Release Date:
18 March 1970
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York City: 18 March 1970
Los Angeles opening: 18 March 1970
Production Date:
21 May--mid July 1969
Copyright Claimant:
Liberation Co.
Copyright Date:
18 March 1970
Copyright Number:
LP37890
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
102
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
22285
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Steve and Nella Mundine arrive in Somerton, Tennessee, where Steve is to join the law firm of his uncle, Oman Hedgepath. Arriving on the same train is Sonny Boy Mosby, a young black bent on avenging a childhood beating inflicted by white policeman Stanley Bumpas. Hedgepath is persuaded by Steve to accept the divorce suit of Lord Byron Jones, a wealthy black funeral director. Although Jones has named white policeman Willie Joe Worth as corespondent, his wife Emma contests the suit, hoping to receive a settlement sufficient to meet the needs of the child she has conceived by Worth. When Hedgepath informs the officer of the suit, he is alarmed. Fearful of scandal, Worth demands that Emma forego the contest and beats her when she refuses. After fruitlessly requesting Jones to drop the suit, Worth, assisted by officer Bumpas, arrests the undertaker. Although Jones escapes, he is pursued into a junkyard. Tired of flight, the black man confronts the officers and is promptly shot and castrated. Notwithstanding the policemen's confession, Hedgepath and the town mayor decline to prosecute the murderers. Sonny Boy Mosby, however, unknowingly avenges Jones's murder by pushing Bumpas into a harvester. Despairing of southern justice, the Mundines leave town, departing on the same train as Sonny Boy ... +


Steve and Nella Mundine arrive in Somerton, Tennessee, where Steve is to join the law firm of his uncle, Oman Hedgepath. Arriving on the same train is Sonny Boy Mosby, a young black bent on avenging a childhood beating inflicted by white policeman Stanley Bumpas. Hedgepath is persuaded by Steve to accept the divorce suit of Lord Byron Jones, a wealthy black funeral director. Although Jones has named white policeman Willie Joe Worth as corespondent, his wife Emma contests the suit, hoping to receive a settlement sufficient to meet the needs of the child she has conceived by Worth. When Hedgepath informs the officer of the suit, he is alarmed. Fearful of scandal, Worth demands that Emma forego the contest and beats her when she refuses. After fruitlessly requesting Jones to drop the suit, Worth, assisted by officer Bumpas, arrests the undertaker. Although Jones escapes, he is pursued into a junkyard. Tired of flight, the black man confronts the officers and is promptly shot and castrated. Notwithstanding the policemen's confession, Hedgepath and the town mayor decline to prosecute the murderers. Sonny Boy Mosby, however, unknowingly avenges Jones's murder by pushing Bumpas into a harvester. Despairing of southern justice, the Mundines leave town, departing on the same train as Sonny Boy Mosby. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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