An African-American senator becomes the designated survivor of a tragic accident that kills the President of the United States. Now the first black President, he attempts to end the bigotry ... Read allAn African-American senator becomes the designated survivor of a tragic accident that kills the President of the United States. Now the first black President, he attempts to end the bigotry and divide standing in his way.An African-American senator becomes the designated survivor of a tragic accident that kills the President of the United States. Now the first black President, he attempts to end the bigotry and divide standing in his way.
In the opening scene, a White House breakfast is in progress even though the President and the Speaker of the House are visiting a mediaeval cathedral in Europe. Suddenly news arrives that the cathedral has collapsed: the President and the Speaker are dead. White House aides inform Vice President Calvin (a good performance by Lew Ayres) that he's now the chief executive. But Calvin is old and frail, and he refuses the job. I found this contrived: if the Vice President isn't medically fit to replace the President at an instant's notice, then he isn't fit to be Vice President and shouldn't hold the office.
By an obscure but apparently genuine constitutional fluke, the Presidential succession devolves to an obscure senator named Douglass Dilman (James Earl Jones) who happens to be Negro. Yes, a black man is now President!
"The Man" raises some interesting issues. Jones gives an intelligent and dignified performance as the black President who refuses to see his job promotion as proof of racial progress. He knows he wasn't *elected* to the job, and he doesn't believe that America will elect a black President any time soon. (This was 1972.)
William Windom, who usually played sympathetic roles, gives an excellent performance as a bigoted white politician who covets the Presidency. (The posters for this movie depicted Windom speaking a racial epithet.) Charles Lampkin is excellent in a small role as a black Congressman. And, of course, now that a black man is in the Oval Office, there's a plot to assassinate him...
For some reason, comedian Jack Benny gets very large billing for a very brief scene in "The Man". He appears only in the opening teaser sequence: when the opening credits roll with Benny's name on the screen, we've already seen his entire performance and he won't show up again! Playing himself, Jack Benny performs a comedy monologue during the White House breakfast. But Benny's legendary timing is off, and he doesn't bother to conceal that he's reading his jokes off a legal pad. I'm a Jack Benny fan, but he disgraces himself here.
There are some good scenes in "The Man" but there's a lot of sermonising too, and very little action. I recommend this film with reservations, and I'll give it 5 points out of 10. I sincerely believe that the U.S.A. will eventually elect a black President ... but, sad to say, I also believe that the first African-American President will almost certainly be assassinated. I hope I'm wrong.
- F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
- May 27, 2002