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Movie Reviews : 'Man's' Story of Injustice Still Retains Power

January 08, 1994|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Nothing but a Man" (Monica 4-Plex, Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m.), one of the finest portraits of African American life ever made, never reached the audience--or racked up the Oscar nominations--it richly deserved when it was released in March, 1965.

It succeeds as a damning portrait of social injustice because it is first of all a work of art--the unpretentious kind that's warm and real and doesn't call attention to itself. Director Michael Roemer and writer-cameraman Robert Young realized that in depicting the timeless story of a nice young couple just starting out, they didn't need any obvious symbolism or added message to convey the evils of racial inequality.

When Duff Anderson (Ivan Dixon) forsakes the freedom of an all-black railroad crew to marry a preacher's daughter and schoolteacher (Abbey Lincoln), he must deal with relentless humiliation by whites in his new job at a lumber mill in a small Southern town.

In telling Duff's story the filmmakers come to the inescapable conclusion that it is not possible for most blacks to live in the United States with dignity, a truth that sadly applies by and large 30 years after the film was made.

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