The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.
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Sam Greenlee's cult favorite novel of political unrest was brought to the screen in this drama, which also earned a small but loyal following. A congressman hoping to attract African-American voters during an election year decides to make political hay by pointing out that the Central Intelligence Agency has no black agents. Bowing to subsequent public pressure, the CIA admits a number of black applicants to their training program, but they purposefully make the process difficult and unpleasant enough to winnow out nearly all the African-American students. Dan Freeman (Lawrence Cook), a strong, intelligent but soft-spoken man, somehow makes it through the gauntlet to become the black CIA agent; however, rather than being given important field assignments, Freeman is put in charge of the agency's copying machines and gives tours of their facilities to give the offices a progressive front for visitors. After a few years, Freeman leaves the agency to move back to his hometown of Chicago and do work with the community...at least that's what he tells his superiors. In fact, Freeman has used his time at the CIA collecting information on how to launch a political revolution, and not long after he arrives in the Windy City, he begins recruiting an army of leftist radicals and black nationalists fed up with the system. With their help, Freeman launches the first stage of an armed revolt with the stated goal of bringing the white-dominated power structure to its knees. The Spook Who Sat by the Door was a rare feature directorial assignment for Ivan Dixon, best known as an actor (he played Sgt. "Kinch" Kinchloe on Hogan's Heroes), Dixon has an extensive resume of directorial credits, but primarily in episodic television. Spook is his second theatrical release. … More
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as Dan Freeman
as Dahomey Queen
as Mrs. Hennington
as Stud Davis
as Do-Daddy Dean
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as Pretty Willie
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Critic Reviews for The Spook Who Sat by the Door
It is such a mixture of passion, humor, hindsight, prophecy, prejudice and reaction that the fact that it's not a very well-made movie, and is seldom convincing as melodrama, is almost beside the point.
Possibly the most radical of the blaxploitation films of the 70s, this movie was an overnight success when released in 1973, then was abruptly taken out of distribution for reasons still not entirely clear.
Unabashedly bigoted, stridently hateful, it wants to be incendiary and controversial, but only manages thuggish and dull.
So fiery, smart and entertaining that the lack of finesse hardly matters.
...a document of social revolt that still bristles with a timely, and timeless, impression of righteousness and intelligence.
Audience Reviews for The Spook Who Sat by the Door
One of the most radical blaxsplotation films I've ever seen.
I took the message of self determination and exploiting the exploitative system to take skills and knowledge back to ones own community. Inspiring. Using counter terrorism tactics to teach the street gangs guerrilla warfare is just an example of this but it's handled well in the movie. I like that they don't throw in a tacky ending but leave it out there.
The scenes with Dan training in the CIA are confusing at first because you don't quite know where the movie is going and it did seem a little too easy for him to convince a street gang to follow him into urban revolution but that aside the sub plots like the friend who turns him in and the middle class black woman of his being scared by the revolutionary blacks make for a brilliant film.
A difficult film, both for someone to make in the 70's, and for a modern audience to swallow, but both Film and Novel take their subject matter seriously. This movie took guts.
The militant uprising themes are portrayed through character development, and by the end you are forced to analyze how far the protagonist has progressed, or deluded himself, depending on your point of view. Thankfully, the movie leaves it up to the viewer. To pigeonhole this film as mere propaganda is a bit harsh, as it tells a story not with ideology or metaphor but a well-rounded protagonist, and you are left free to interpret how the film ends.
Yet, the film itself is nothing but a one-trick pony, and cannot rely on gutsy thematic content alone, and the supporting cast is blatantly two-dimensional, the plot, while unique in its setting, is sub-par when you strip away its thematic overtones. The films greatness is dependent on the arguments and thoughts it provokes once it is over, and not on its cinematic merit alone.
The film is trapped in Schroedinger's box, but is well worth the time to examine for yourself, and see what emerges.
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