Nothing But a Man

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Nothing but a Man
Directed by Michael Roemer
Produced by Michael Roemer
Robert Rubin
Robert M. Young
Written by Michael Roemer
Robert M. Young
Starring Ivan Dixon
Abbey Lincoln
Yaphet Kotto
Release dates
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Nothing But a Man is a film made in 1964, directed by Michael Roemer. The story is about a black railroad worker who falls in love with the town’s preacher’s daughter, and tries to maintain his respect in the white racist south in the early 1960s.[1] The story depicts the struggle of their strife for “a meaningful place” in their society. It stars Ivan Dixon as Duff Anderson and Abbey Lincoln as Josie Dawson. According to The Washington Post, "Nothing But a Man is one of the most sensitive films about black life ever made in this country”.[2][3]


The story introduces Duff Anderson on the railroad, playing checkers with his rail worker friends, at a pool hall, and on the street at night. At a church meeting featuring lively gospel music, Duff meets the pretty and genteel schoolteacher Josie Dawson. They begin to date against the will of Preacher Dawson (Josie’s father). Duff tells her he doesn't want to get married. But after visiting his illegitimate son who has been abandoned to the care of a wet nurse, and his drunken father who is barely keeping it together under the care of a loving wife, Duff realizes that he prefers the stability of a family to the life of a drifter. The two marry with bright hopes for the future, but then begin to face a series of challenges as a married couple. Being on the move had given Duff the illusion of freedom, but living in the town makes Duff subject to the town's social rules, and he immediately starts to have problems. He hates his preacher father-in-law, whom he sees as having sold out to the white people, and he hurtfully says to his wife, "You've never really been a nigger, living with them, in that house." After refusing to bow down to the white bosses at the mill he is fired, and subsequently finds himself blacklisted. His father-in-law finally finds him a job at a gas station, but customers who find him too proud for a black "boy" threaten to cause trouble if the boss keeps him on. Duff and his wife get into a fight because of the emotional and physical trials Duff faces, and because of the added pressure that a coming baby adds. Unwilling either to kowtow to white bosses or to pick cotton for $2.50 a day he leaves in a rage, telling his wife that he will write her when he is on his feet again. Duff storms off to his father, who is so inebriated that he dies as Duff and his stepmother are driving him to the hospital. Neither Duff nor his stepmother knows where his father was born or how old he was, and the only possessions he has handed down to Duff are the contents of his pockets. Duff and his stepmother stare at one another, facing the grim reality of the invisibleness and lack of history of the negro. The film concludes as Duff gains the courage to return home with his son, and the two tearfully embrace as he reassures her that "everything is gonna be all right”.



The original soundtrack to the film was put together by Wilbur Kirk and employs an original soundtrack by Motown Records (1964). The original soundtrack was released on CD by Motown Records in 1996. [2]

Track Listing:

  • 1. "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" – Martha & The Vandellas
  • 2. "Fingertips (Pt. II)" – Little Stevie Wonder
  • 3. "That's the Way I Feel" – The Miracles
  • 4. "Come on Home" – Holland & Dozier
  • 5. "This Is When I Need You Most" – Martha & The Vandellas
  • 6. "I'll Try Something New" – The Miracles
  • 7. "Way Over There" – The Marvelettes
  • 8. "Mickey's Monkey" – The Miracles
  • 9. "You Beat Me to the Punch" – Mary Wells
  • 10. "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" (live) – The Miracles
  • 11. "Bye Bye Baby" (live) – Mary Wells


In 1964, Nothing But a Man won the San Giorgio Prize at the Venice Film Festival, awarded to films considered especially important for the progress of civilization.

In 1993, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


The script was written in six weeks but casting took several months. Charles Gordone is responsible for introducing the writers to some of the main talent, including Broadway actor Ivan Dixon, jazz great Abbey Lincoln, and a number of other notable black talent from movies, television, and the stage, some who have gone on to enjoy long and distinguished careers. The movie premiered at Philharmonic Hall and had a limited run in a few cities, receiving rave reviews at the New York Film Festival and winning a coveted prize at the Venice Film Festival, but it was unable to find a wider distribution except at theaters specializing in independent and foreign films. Now it is generally considered to be an important example of neorealistic American cinema.

Before the film was written, Roemer, who had fled Nazi Germany as an 11-year-old child[4] on the Kindertransports, and co-writer Robert Young, went on a quest to understand and get to know the African American culture of the South. They “left on an Underground Railway in reverse”. As liberal Jews in the South, they were treated by whites as pariahs and warned that their food might be poisoned, causing them to relate strongly to the black families they got to know. They allowed themselves to be passed on from one family and community to the next so they could learn as much as possible about the relationships and experiences. One morning, while in Mississippi, the plot of a young couple and the relationship with the man’s father came to Roemer and the script was written in six short weeks as soon as they were back in New York.

The film was written by both Robert M. Young and Michael Roemer, who drew on his own background as a Jew persecuted by Nazis.[4] Michael Roemer also went on to direct the movie; Robert M. Young did the lighting and cinematography. It was produced by both men, along with Robert Rubin and was edited by Luke Bennet. The music was done by Wilbur Kirk, the production design was done by William Rhodes, and Nancy Ruffing was the costume designer.

The film was apparently a favorite of Malcolm X.

Julius Harris was a male nurse before he was cast in the movie,[5] but had always wanted to act.

At the last minute, the writer almost changed the name of the movie to Duff Anderson.

A novelization of the film was written by noted pulp crime novelist Jim Thompson.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] The New York Times
  2. ^ Review The Washington Post
  3. ^ Review DVD Talk
  4. ^ a b Vicki Vasilopoulos, "New Life for a 1964 Film" The New York Times (November 14, 2004). Retrieved October 20, 2011
  5. ^ William H. Smock, "Michael Roemer: Silhouette" The Harvard Crimson (March 4, 1965). Retrieved October 28, 2011
  6. ^ "Order of Jim Thompson Books". Retrieved 2015-03-05. 

External links[edit]