Born in Birmingham, Duff Anderson, the father of a male toddler, who lives with a nanny, re-locates to a small town to work on the railroad. He meets with and is attracted to Josie much to the chagrin of her preacher father. The marriage does take place nevertheless, both re-locate to live in their own house and he gets a job in a mill. He decides not to bring his son to live with them. Challenges arise when the Mill Foreman finds out that Duff is attempting to unionize the workers, forcing Duff to quit, and look for work elsewhere. Unable to reconcile himself to working on a daily wage of $2.50 picking cotton nor even as a waiter, he gets a job at a garage. He is enraged at a customer for belittling him and Josie, and is let go. Unemployed, unable to support his wife and son, he gets abusive and leaves - perhaps never to return. Written by
The Defining Movie about a black man's struggles in the south
Over the years the struggles of blacks in the racist south have been rendered in fiction by books like Faulkner's "Light in August" and films like "Hurry Sundown," (though blacks were relatively minor characters in this film), "Sounder," "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," "A Woman Called Moses" and "Ragtime." "Nothing But a Man" predates the other films and broke new ground by depicting the plight of a young black man who refuses to knuckle under to the times and the expectations placed on him.
Duff Anderson is a section hand earning good money on a railroad construction gang in the south of the 1960's. Carefree and aimless, he sends money to the woman who raises his little boy and meets his own absentee father for the first time since his childhood, only to be brutally rejected. Duff's life changes dramatically when he falls in love with Josie, whose minister father "gets along" by accommodating the white man and who wants nothing to do with rootless Duff. In spite of the minister's objections Josie and Duff are married, but Duff's attempt to unionize at his new job gets him fired and local whites threaten his life when he refuses to cow-tow to bigots. At the end of the story Duff's father dies after rejecting his son yet again, prompting Duff to admit "I'm just like him." But Duff is a far better man than his father could ever be, for at a time when nonstop adversity would have broken a lesser person, he takes custody of his little son and returns to Josie determined to be a husband and parent, the two roles at which his own father failed so miserably.
Everything in this film rings true, from the opening scenes with the railroad gang to the tearful reunion with his family at the end. The dialog is almost unrelentingly cynical, as Duff comes to see his courtship of Josie through the eyes of his railroad pals and his disapproving father-in-law and views his prospects for employment and success in the light of bitter experiences with back-stabbing co-workers, unsympathetic employers and white racists.
Ivan Dixon is superb as Duff and Abbey Lincoln is equally fine as the supportive wife who must share her husband's fate. The black-and-white filming underscores the seriousness of the subject matter and the bleakness of Duff's life. This is a classic film, not to be missed.
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