The Man (1972 film)

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The Man
Poster of The Man (1972 film)).jpg
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Produced by Lee Rich
Written by Rod Serling
Starring James Earl Jones
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Edward Rosson
Edited by George Jay Nicholson
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
19 July 1972
Running time
93 min.
Country USA
Language English

The Man is a 1972 political drama directed by Joseph Sargent and starring James Earl Jones. Jones plays Douglass Dilman, the President pro tempore of the United States Senate, who succeeds to the presidency through a series of unforeseeable events, thereby becoming both the first African American president and the first wholly unelected one. The screenplay, written by Rod Serling, is largely based upon The Man, a novel by Irving Wallace.

In addition to being the first black president more than thirty-six years before the real-world occurrence, the fictional Dilman was also the first president elected to neither that office nor to the Vice Presidency, foreshadowing the real-world elevation of Gerald Ford by less than twenty-five months.[1]

In an interview with Greg Braxton of the Los Angeles Times that ran January 16, 2009, four days before Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, Jones was asked about having portrayed the fictional first black U.S. president on film. He replied: "I have misgivings about that one. It was done as a TV special. Had we known it was to be released as a motion picture, we would have asked for more time and more production money. I regret that."[citation needed]


President Fenton and the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives are killed while at a summit in Frankfurt, West Germany when the palace hosting the legation suffers a collapse. Vice President [technically President since the instant of Fenton's death][2] Noah Calvin, elderly and in very ill health, refuses to assume the office, pointing out that they'll need another replacement almost immediately.

Arthur Eaton, the Secretary of State, corrects Senator Watson's anachronistic assumption that Eaton is the next in the line of succession,[3] explaining that it had been amended the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, and that the position was the President pro tempore of the Senate, who is Douglass Dilman.

A stunned Dilman is sworn in and arrives at the White House to assume office. Eaton's outspoken wife Kay berates her husband for not pushing to become president, even though it would be contrary to the succession order. Eaton assures her that he will become president once Dilman proves unable to handle the job.

In the morning, as Eaton and his advisers come to the Oval Office, it becomes evident that Eaton is setting himself up as the "power behind the throne." Dilman meets with Eaton, who gives him a binder of briefing notes. Included are statements the President can give in response to questions asked by the press, statements that generally conform to positions on issues by the administration of the deceased Fenton.

Dilman meets the press for the first time as president. At the outset, he goes along with the information provided. An aggressive reporter observes the "puppet strings" as Dilman stops to consult notes after each question, and he questions Dilman's independence.

Eaton scribbles a note and has it taken forward to the president. Dilman, having realized that he's being manipulated, crumples Eaton's note, shoves the briefing binder aside and proceeds under his own initiative, deciding that if God or fate has made him president, he will have to make his own decisions.

Dilman, a moderate, is confronted with activists and extremists over his skin color. Robert Wheeler, a young black man, meanwhile, is sought for extradition by apartheid South Africa for an attempt to assassinate the defence minister of South Africa; Dilman offers his help as the young man claims he was in Burundi at the time.

Senator Watson introduces a bill that would require approval of Congress in any attempt by the President to dismiss a member of the cabinet. Eaton doesn't tell Dilman about it, but a few black congressmen have a meeting with Dilman to discuss their concerns. Dilman believes they are referring to a minority rights bill and pledges his support, until one of the congressmen tells the President it isn't about the rights bill but the Watson bill.

Dilman subsequently chews out a group of senior leaders whom Eaton is meeting with, questioning his relevance if such an important bill is not even being brought to his attention.

Senator Watson visits the South African embassy, where the ambassador comments that his own country would never have a black man as president. He shows a news film to Senator Watson that proves Wheeler was indeed in South Africa, and it breaks as a scandal threatening Dilman's young presidency.

Dilman's activist daughter Wanda clashes with Kay Eaton at a dinner in the White House. The President watches the verbal exchange with pride and bemusement. But when he obtains the young black man's confession, handing him over for extradition, the President alienates Wanda, who doesn't agree with handing over an activist against white minority rule in South Africa. During this scene there is a very telling moment when Wheeler (played by Georg Stanford Brown who would play the runaway slave in the miniseries North and South) calls the President a "House Person" and the President responds that "Black men don't burn churches and kill four children; they don't hunt down a Martin Luther King with a telescopic sight. Passion may drive you to the streets to throw a brick, but to buy a gun, plant a alibi and travel 5000 miles and kill a human being is bloodless, worthy of the selective morality of Adolf Eichmann."

The President addresses reporters, explaining that while some people think violence is the only answer, he will rely on diplomacy and peaceful means. He washes his hands of the Wheeler issue.

A reporter asks if he's going to pass up a run for the presidential nomination in the next election. Dilman replies that he is going to "fight like hell" to win the nomination. To the tune of "Hail to the Chief," he is introduced to the party's national convention.



William Windom sought the presidency in this movie. A year earlier, in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Windom played the president.

Lew Ayres previously played a vice-president elevated to the presidency in Advise and Consent, and portrayed the president in the made-for-TV Earth II.

Martin Balsam played a top White House adviser in Seven Days in May, who is killed while a renegade U.S. Army general organizes a military coup to overthrow the president.

James Earl Jones later assassinated the acting president [or executed the presidential pretender, depending upon one's perspective] and his advisors in the 1990 HBO film, By Dawn's Early Light.

After presenting the film of Wheeler, the South African consul declares to Senator Watson that his country will never have a Black president; Watson replies that, twenty-five years earlier, he would have said the same thing about the United States. Less than twenty-two years after the film's release, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first Black president.[4]

Wanda asks her newly-elevated (and already widowed) father what the daughter of a president does, which he dismisses with allusions to guiding Girl Scouts through the Smithsonian and leading the Easter egg roll on the south lawn. As the president's closest female relative, she would traditionally have been expected to serve as First Lady or "White House hostess" as many presidential daughters, daughters-in-law, sisters, and nieces have done.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Man was released on July 19, 1972. Gerald Ford assumed the Vice Presidency on December 6, 1973, his appointment having been approved by both houses of Congress. Ford assumed the Presidency eight months later, on August 9, 1974, pursuant to Richard Nixon's resignation.
  2. ^ Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the United States Constitution reads:
    "In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President."
  3. ^ The Presidential Succession act of 1886 placed the Secretary of State in line immediately following the Vice President]].
  4. ^ The Man was released on July 19, 1972. Nelson Mandela assumed the South African presidency on May 10, 1994.
  5. ^ Thomas Jefferson's daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph, March 4, 1801 - March 4, 1809; Andrew Jackson's niece Emily Donelson, March 4, 1829 - December 19, 1836, and daughter-in-law Sarah Yorke Jackson, November 26, 1834 - March 4, 1837; Martin Van Buren's daughter-in-law Angelica Singleton Van Buren, January 1, 1839 - March 4, 1841; John Tyler's daughter-in-law Priscilla Cooper Tyler, September 10, 1842 - June 26, 1844; James Buchanan's niece Harriet Lane, March 4, 1857 - March 4, 1861; Chester A. Arthur's sister Mary Arthur McElroy, September 19, 1881 - March 4, 1885; Grover Cleveland's sister Rose Cleveland, March 4, 1885 - June 2, 1886; Benjamin Harrison's daughter Mary Harrison McKee, October 25, 1892 - March 4, 1893; Woodrow Wilson's daughter Margaret Woodrow Wilson, August 6, 1914 - December 18, 1915; William Jefferson Clinton's daughter Chelsea Clinton, January 3, 2001 - January 20, 2001.

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