Nothing But a Man (1963) (NR)

Drama 95 December 31, 1969
By Nick Pinkerton
Nothing but a Man was shot in the summer of 1963-- the summer of Medgar Evers, George Wallace at the University of Alabama, and "I Have a Dream"-- set in the segregated South but filmed in the precincts of the South Jersey Shore. In his first fiction feature, Michael Roemer sought to capture something essential about life in small-town, contemporary Alabama. From the first black-and-white images by cinematographer/co-screenwriter Robert M. Young, scenes of a black section crew putting down railroad track, Nothing but a Man has a commanding veracity that makes a viewer trust in its truth. Laurel-hung at Venice and lauded at the '64 New York Film Festival, Nothing but a Man submerged from sight afterward, resurfacing every decade or so in home video or revival-- like Film Forum’s week-long run-- as if by historical necessity. Duff Anderson (Ivan Dixon) is introduced laying track for $80 a week, living cooped up in the sticks with his co-workers, including a sarcastic youngblood played by Yaphet Kotto. Duff meets and makes a date with Josie (jazz singer Abbey Lincoln), a 26-year-old schoolteacher. Her daddy disproves of the match, but from the moment Duff and Josie meet, they are all barely suppressed smiles. Duff tries to play the unpolished, blue-collar tough with Josie, but she calls his bluff, appealing to the obvious intelligence in his eyes. Throughout, Duff projects a tense, hard-edged pragmatism, figuring a way to tolerate the uneasy, uneven truces between man and woman, middle-- and working-class, white and black. Nothing but a Man-- the title almost suggests manhood as something trifling. The film confirms it's a mighty hard ideal to reach.
Michael Roemer Robert M. Young, Michael Roemer

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