A proud black man and his school-teacher wife face discriminatory challenges in 1960s America.
A proud black man and his school-teacher wife face discriminatory challenges in 1960s America.
Ivan Dixon Abbey Lincoln Julius Harris Gloria Foster Martin Priest Leonard Parker Yaphet Kotto Stanley Greene Helen Lounck Helene Arrindell Walter Wilson Milton Williams Mel Stewart Marshal Tompkin Alfred Puryear Ed Rowan Tom Ligon William Jordan Dorothy Hall Gertrude Jeannette Gil Rogers Richard Webber Eugene Wood Jim Wright Arland Schubert Peter Carew Bill Riola Jay Brooks Robert Berger Show All…
I’m sure many viewers over the years have been surprised by the fact that Nothing But a Man not only wasn’t made by an African American but it was actually co-written, co-produced, and directed by a German-born Jewish filmmaker (Michael Roemer) who had little prior experience of the American South. But given how sincere, sensitive, yet unsentimental the film is in depicting black life in America during the early sixties, it almost makes sense. It's safe to say that Roemer's status as a relative outsider, one who was in a position to be as objective as possible, had something to do with how things turned out. Unlike most such films, it neither portrays its black characters as…
The title is simplistic enough in telling us what the film wants to achieve. Not 'trouble', not 'boy' but a man like anyone else. In a turbulent political period for America the front line battle for racial equality has been well documented, yet for the majority, the men and women unseen by the cameras, the daily grind of acceptance from others continued.
Which is exactly what we are shown here. A regular guy living a regular life, shown within the context of his own world, the small details that make up the larger picture for us all. What turns this into such a refreshingly honest look at being black in the 60's is the lack of patronisation or white guilt…
"They may not use a knife, but they have other ways."
Movies about racism to this day rely on cliché conflicts and physically violent clashes often to communicate nothing more than "racism exists and it is bad" (or in the case of pablum like THE HELP, "racism existed and it was bad until good white people stopped the bad white people from being so gosh darn racist."). What NOTHING BUT A MAN reminds us is that the violence of institutionalized discrimination runs deeper than verbal altercations and physical attacks. The regular daily indignities suffered by men like Duff (Ivan Dixon showing a restraint not typical to performances of this era) as they attempt to earn a living, fall in love,…
Duff Anderson (Ivan Dixon, in my favorite acting performance of all time) lives a decent life. He works for the railroad, helping to lay down new track. Duff enjoys his nomadic lifestyle as well as the crew he works with although he doesn't seem eager to be anything but a loner. He is easy going and fun to hang with, but he seems to keep his emotional distance.
This all changes when Duff attends a church service and the following potluck dinner. There he meets the preacher's daughter Josie Dawson, and a connection is instantaneous. They begin dating, but Duff is hesitant to settle down until a visit with his illegitimate son and own shiftless father lead him back to…
It’s clever how this film isn’t ostensibly about racism, but how racism is always inherent within the lives of our lead characters. Whether it’s on the periphery thanks to some sly remarks or only threatening to boil over, it’s saddening that anything Duff does within the film, within his life, is always going to be cloaked by the threat of racism. What this film does well is highlight the less obvious oppression but how powerful it still is. Duff is repeatedly called “boy” over and over without a bat of an eye from anyone, his white boss simply takes the word of some mean white guys over Duff’s after an altercation they started. Sometimes it’s not just the overt haymakers…
A lot of people have already written well about this wonderful movie, and I don't have much to add... but watching it as a thing-of-nineteensixtyfour drove home to me how little representation of black America there had been until then; I don't think there had been anything out there that mirrored people's lived experience the way (I assume) this did. That right there gives this movie great power.
And so do Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln's performances, both were incomparably good. I had no idea Abbey Lincoln would be such a good actor, in addition to her important contributions to jazz history.
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While reading some Interviews about The Last Black Man in San Francisco, director Joe Talbot cited this as his all time favourite film. Once I found out my library had some copies, I put it on hold, only getting around to checking it out now.
At the very least, it's super interesting to see what true independent filmmaking was like in the early to mid 60s. As a film, I actually really liked it. Solid performances, a good script, but some uneven pacing that makes some scenes really good, and others drag on. At its core, it's the characters that kept me invested and interested the whole way through, rooting for them to finally catch a break. Worth checking out if you can get your hands on it, but not a huge loss if you can't.
I wanted to like this a lot more than I actually did. There's no disputing that this is a landmark film and a work of merit. The problem is that for every strong performance (and 1 or 2 are excellent) the rest of the cast is populated with wooden amateurs. As a result I constantly found myself being broken from concentrating on the story.
Truly a singular film for its time and to this day--a vital and uniquely socially-conscious drama that doubles as a powerful and emotionally complex character study.
A pretty remarkable film....a refreshingly raw and honest depiction of black people just trying to live a normal life in the '60s South, with a naturalistic indie style that feels quite ahead of its time (bit of a Cassavetes vibe to it), and absolutely none of the sentimental lesson-learning that often comes with films about racism (although this is obviously about much more than just that). Sincere and hard-hitting stuff, and that Motown soundtrack is banging too.
a landmark and masterpiece. see it.
a related thought: it is wild that two of the best american films of the 60s -- Roemer's NOTHING BUT A MAN (1964) and Dassin's UPTIGHT (1968) were buried and under-promoted in their own time because they ignored the liberal pieties of the time about race and failed to assuage white guilt. NOTHING BUT A MAN was rediscovered in the 90s when it was restored; UPTIGHT wasn't unearthed until even more recently.
it's obviously not a coincidence that these movies were both made by outsiders -- Roemer, a German Jew who fled from the Nazis as a child, Dassin, a blacklisted leftist Jew born to immigrant parents. and it's hard to imagine that their…
Nothing But a Man looks gorgeous; feels authentic feels; and ties together cycles of oppression in a way I’ve never really experienced.
What causes it to hold up so well is the story structure that manages to oscillate between highly intense, varying emotions with dexterity. Charm becomes passion becomes hate becomes tragedy, and repeats.
The most amazing effect of the film though comes just before the final scene, when it really hit me in a personal way–Duff is a man who not only is just trying to be himself, but he’s fighting the world with principle to be able to do so with pride. And this theme of continuous personal struggle against a world of so much bullshit really resonated with me personally.
Bold, sincere, and knowing, this social realist drama from the early 60s has absolutely no interest in placating for white people’s comfort (still a rarity among modern mainstream studio films that tackle racism). This refusal to assuage liberal guilt makes the film a refreshing antidote to the feel good “progressive” pictures of Sidney Poitier, which for all their groundbreaking representation were still primarily focused on reassuring white audiences rather than capturing the ugly realities of black life (James Baldwin’s seminal text The Devil Finds Work is essential reading). Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln are heartbreakingly good as the central couple Duff and Josie, exuding a natural chemistry with tender intimacy. The lustrous black and white cinematography give the work a vérité aesthetic, which along with the loose narrative and grounded performances make this feel of a piece with indie godfather John Cassavetes. Simply miraculous, this film is a watershed moment in portraying the black experience onscreen.
"I think if you tried living in a town like this instead of running free and easy you'd soon change your tune."
"I doubt it."
Sombrous, leaded, one noted--but for the buoyant soundtrack (Mary Wells, The Gospel Stars, Martha and the Vandellas, The Miracles, Holland-Dozier, Little Stevie Wonder, The Marvelettes), which signals the transcendence of circumstances, not the flight from them. The music is the film's core, insubstantial and inviolate: the "inside" that Josie (Abbey Lincoln) references when she tells Duff (Ivan Dixon), "they can't touch me inside."
. . .
A significant document in mustache studies. The filmmakers, Roemer and Young, felt that Duff should be cleanshaven. Dixon was adamant, however:
Most black men wore mustaches, particularly in the South.... The cats who didn't wear mustaches were those who worked with the white boys... I showed him "Ebony" and "Jet"--every black leader--Jesse, Malcolm, Martin…