The Spook Who Sat By the Door

Dir. Ivan Dixon. 1973. Starring: Ramon Livingston, Lawrence Cook. English. Black Cinema.
The Spook Who Sat By the Door

For years I was inundated by requests for this seemingly much-in-demand film that I'd never heard of. It played in theaters for only three weeks upon its initial release before being yanked. Despite being successful and popular, the FBI and COINTELPRO put pressure on the film's distributors, fearful of what it might inspire in viewers. When it finally came to DVD, I watched it.

The plot concerns a white U.S. senator whose political career is faltering. In a cynical bid to appeal to black voters and save his career, he voices his support for a C.I.A. drive to recruit more blacks into the organization. This works but - in a move that's both comical and obviously designed to rile up viewers and sets the tone for the rest of the film - the new recruits are graded on a curve. Only one of these new, token black agents can pass - quiet, polite Dan Feldman. And Dan learns that his new position will be as Reproduction Chief which requires him to man the copy machine in the basement at all times.

After five years in the C.I.A. he returns to Chicago where, by day, he takes a job in social services. But by night he's known as Turk and he's busy recruiting and training like-minded, disenfranchised and disgusted citizens as soldiers for a planned revolution against Whitey - applying the tactics he secretly picked up despite his low position at his former workplace and acquiring funds from bank robberies.

The movie has a guerrilla feel not just because of the subject matter, but to minimize both production costs and hassle from the Man, the film-makers didn't bother getting permits to shoot around Chicago. Nonetheless, it is still shot well and nicely scored by Herbie Hancock. It may seem dated and fanciful today but at the time, a similar situation was occurring in Germany when the Rote Armee Fraktion aka the Baader-Meinhof Group violently took up arms against their chock-full-of-ex-Nazis government after training in Palestine.

Posted by:
Eric Brightwell
Feb 9, 2008 3:36pm
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