Saturday, January 22, 2011

Nothing but a Man: a classic movie reviewed

Cover of "Nothing But a Man"Cover of Nothing But a Man

[I wrote this review as part of the labor movies series at Talking Union]
A 1964 movie about an African-American man who wants to be treated as “Nothing but a Man” was not a commercial hit, but it has been included in the National Film Registry. It is movie which labor and racial justice activists, as well as film buffs, will enjoy. At first glance, it might not seem a labor movie like “The Inheritance” or “Salt of the Earth.”, but consider how the movie title resonates with the “I am a Man” slogan of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation workers strike.

Tom Weiner on all.movies.com describes Nothing But a Man as “the first dramatic story featuring a largely black cast created for an integrated audience (the work of black filmmakers such as Oscar Micheaux was intended for audiences who patronized black-only theaters). White filmmakers Michael Roemer and Robert M. Young traveled through the South in 1962 in search of ideas for a fiction feature set during the growing turbulence of the civil rights era.”

Duff Anderson, played by Ivan Dixon, is a young care-free railroad section crew worker, who meets Josie Dawson, played by Abby Lincoln, a beautiful young school teacher and daughter of a preacher. A romance develops, followed by marriage. Duff quits the railroad and gets a job at a saw mill. Duff and Josie have his former crew mates to dinner, where Duff complains that the African Americans at the mill are intimidated by their white bosses and fellow workers.


At work, Duff is confronted in the locker room by his boss. (At 4:52 in this clip.)

“ I hear you are trying to organize this place,” the white boss says.

“I don't know what you are talking about.”

“That's no way to talk, boy. We had one of them union men around here a couple of years ago. Stirred up lots of trouble. They are always at you colored boys.”

“I stll don't know what you are talking about”

“Are you a union man?”

“I used to be, on the railroad.”

“Well this ain't the railroad....”

The boss demands that Duff renounce his call to “stick together” in front of his fellow workers. Duff refuses and is fired.

“Boy, you are acting like a nigger with no sense”

Later Duff applies for a job at the other saw mill in town (8:53). At first the boss says he can use Duff, but then asks for Duff's name, check a list, and says he doesn't need anyone. The blacklist in action. Duff encounters difficulties finding employment, problems with his father, and in his relationship with Josie.

After viewing Nothing But a Man, I found a couple of interesting reviews that confirm my positive reaction to the movie.

Christopher Sevring writes,
But focusing on the real economic effects of racism on people rather than dramatizing flashpoints of the Civil Rights struggle or depicting White brutality is not a mistake; in fact, this is where the film's strength lies as a statement on race. But focusing on the real economic effects of racism on people rather than dramatizing flashpoints of the Civil Rights struggle or depicting White brutality is not a mistake; in fact, this is where the film's strength lies as a statement on race.
Hal Hinson of the Washington Post judged when the movie was re-released “it may be that the best film to come out so far in 1993 was actually made in 1964.” Moreover, he writes “perhaps no other film has captured so completely the everyday details of living in a country that, in essence, belongs to others. Or has shown how grinding and constant the commonplace slights and insults, the denials and closed doors, can be.”

Nothing But a Man can be rented from Netflix, ordered from Amazon , The DVD has very informative interview with actors Dixon, Lincoln, and Julius Linclon, and a conversation between, filmakers Roemer and Young, as well as a feature on Abby Lincoln. The entire movie also can also be found on YouTube.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Post a Comment