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You don't know what it's like to sit up and stand and blow your guts out night after night and let some idiot sittin' there sayin,' 'Why don't you play Melancholy Baby' man! Well, I'm finished with it. I don't have to take it anymore. Any musician that's worth anything will tell you I'm right!
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This film, made in 1966, was a bold attempt at addressing the contemporary conflicts of race and identity as it affected an African American jazz musician during the turbulent civil rights era. Adam (Sammy Davis Jr.) is a celebrated yet self destructive jazz musician and womanizer. Possessing a mean temper with a short fuse, he also has a serious drinking problem. In the opening scenes we are introduced to Adam leading his band in a sensuous slow number to an appreciative audience at a jazz club. When a drunken audience member insists he play something up-tempo, the volatile Adam abruptly stops playing and nearly assaults his heckler before storming out of the club and hopping a plane back to New York without explanation. Arriving home drunk with a sexy stewardess whose name he can't remember (a very lovely Lola Falana in her first screen role, which amounts to a brief cheesecake walk-on) Adam inconveniently discovers his apartment has been loaned for the week-end by his best friend (played by Ossie Davis) to a respected, elderly jazz musician (Louis Armstrong) and his chaperon/grand-daughter, a young civil rights activist (Cicely Tyson). Honored by the presence of the senior musician and attracted to his grand- daughter's sharp wit, politic-ism, and natural beauty (unlike the other African American actresses in this film, Tyson wears her hair in a short afro and wears little to no make-up). To his best friend's dismay, Adam attempts to embark upon a serious relationship with the activist, and to meet her challenge to him to be "nothing less and nothing less" than what what he is, "a man. With the support of his no-nonsense girlfriend and his young protégé (Frank Sinatra Jr.) Adam's efforts to tame his drinking and his anger look promising until an unexpected confrontation with the police tips the scale. Neither the elder musician's (Armstrong) brand of courteous subservience nor Tyson's subscription to non- violent protest works for Adam, In an era where his art cannot shield him from the stigma and crisis of his race, Adam is a time-bomb waiting to happen. Davis' performance is riveting as is Tyson's. The issues presented in this film were raw at the time of its making, and Davis and Tyson present African American characters that were almost unprecedented in their dramatic intensity and three dimensionality--an exception would be Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln's startling performances in "Nothin' But AMan", (1961). Rat-pack bad boy Peter Lawford joins the cast as Adam's powerful and vindictive agent who, after twice being humiliated by Adam (don't miss the scene in famed NY restaurant, 21), blackballs him, then forces him back to the humiliation of the segregated south. Also look for a brief yet strong performance from an uncredited Jan'et DuBois ("Willona" on 1970s TV show, "Good Times") as Adam's pride-less sometimes girlfriend, and Academy award winning actor Morgan Freeman an extra in a party scene featuring singer Mel Torme.
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