Nothing But a Man,
and a few more films

#219  [archive]
NOV. 18, 2023

Nothing But a Man (1964) 

Here's a hell of a flick — a look at American segregation while it was happening.

Ivan Dixon plays Duff, a man who wants to be, well, nothing but a man. He has a decent but dead-end job as a railroad worker laying tracks. He has a routine, maybe even has a ladyfriend if he can find something to say to her. He doesn't have much else, but he has some self-respect.

But it's the South in the '60s, where self-respect in a black man was unwelcome. Whenever there's a white man around, and sometimes when there's not, there's tension, and the expectation of staying in one's place. Always, Duff has to be subservient, and he's not a naturally subservient man.

The racism is routine, casual — white folks expecting to be respected, black folks knowing they won't be. Even when it's not intentionally rude, always there's the promise of violence if a black man acts like a man.

Most American movies about blacks in the 1960s were polished pretense with upbeat endings, and usually with Sidney Poitier — A Patch of Blue, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, In the Heat of the Night, Lilies of the Field, To Sir with Love...  Always such movies had white actors in major roles, so the white audience could have someone to identify with, and the white folks in the movie learned An Important Lesson by the end.

This film shows white people as black people saw them — ubiquitously there, but to be avoided when possible. Most startling, it shows black people as black people, and it looks like an awfully frustrating, dehumanizing life to be stuck in. When the movie's over, nobody white has learned squat, but whites get to walk away afterwards, instead of living as less all our lives.

Nothing But a Man is blistering, the business at hand is serious, and it's a terrific film.

Jazz singer Abbey Lincoln co-stars, but does not sing. Yaphet Kotto has a small, early role.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Death Collector (1988)

This is a B-level action neon apocalyptic western, so it's odd, but kinda fun. Seems the sheriff's been killed by the local big bad boss, and Wade, the dead cop's singing cowboy brother, has been sent to prison for something trumped-up. When he gets out of prison he comes gunning for the big bad boss.

Wade, the protagonist, looks like an underwear model. He's played by an actor who can't act, and he sings a few songs you don't want to hear.

The story is littered with bewilderingly stupid moments, like how Wade gets out of prison: Somebody calls the prison office and says it's been shut down for budget constraints, so the guy who answered the phone says, "OK," and unlocks all the cells. And it's not a plot, simply politics. We're supposed to believe that's how prisons are closed.

At one point the big bad boss says to Wade, "I like you. You're so stupid it gives me pleasure!" And that would be a good tag line for this movie's poster, but like most poster tag lines it would be a lie. 

Whatever the intent here, it falls flat, but it's still oddly… odd, and there are moments when the story they were trying to tell briefly comes fuzzily into view. 

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Junkman (1982) 

H. B. Halicki was an auto mechanic and ran a junkyard, before writing, directing, and starring in the chase & wreck classic Gone in 60 Seconds (1974). 

This is Halicki's follow-up to that, made eight years later. It's about a guy named Harlan Hollis, who was an auto mechanic and ran a junkyard, before writing, directing, and starring in the chase & wreck classic Gone in 60 Seconds (1974). 

So it's all an inside joke, and feels like a less-inspired rerun. The original had car-wreck panache. This one has car wrecks, and also more car wrecks, with occasions gunshots, strafing and hand grenades dropped from a biplane, and a long stop at a James Dean memorial.

At one point, somebody loses control of their car and drives into a few rural mailboxes, which inexplicably explode. Many times, after a wreck, the camera lingers just long enough for someone on the sidewalk to say, "I don't believe it."

Why, though, is everyone in the tri-state area chasing Hollis/Halicki? Apparently, his  business partner thinks he'll get a bigger share of the box office from Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) if Hollis/Halicki is dead.

Eleanor, the yellow Ford Mustang that starred in Gone in 60 Seconds, makes a cameo appearance, and there's no mistaking it, since it's painted with the Gone in 60 Seconds logo. There's also a Goodyear blimp.

The highlight is when Hollis/Halicki in his car finds himself cornered in a large, full parking lot, so he hood-nudges a sign, which falls over to make a ramp, and he drives his car up the sign/ramp and across the hoods of four dozen parked cars to make his getaway.

That's actually kinda cool in a Bugs Bunny-Road Runner way, but it's thirty seconds out of the movie, and the rest of it's just car wrecks. 

A movie needs more than car wrecks.

Verdict: MAYBE.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

The Internet's Own Boy (2014)
Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
Romper Stomper (1992)
Room Service (1938)
Who Farted? (2019)

... plus occasional 
schlock and surprises 

• • • But wait, there's more  • • •

Alexander Nevsky (1938)
Brainwaves (1983)
Cellular (2004) 
The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)
The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009)
The Decline of Western Civilization (1980)
Downsizing (2017)
Frankenhooker (1990)
Hugo (2011)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
Love Happy (1950)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
Phone Booth (2002)
PickAxe (1999)
Poison (1990)
Revelations (1993)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
Saved! (2004)
Scared to Death (1947)
Secret Weapons (1985)
The Shooting (1966)
The Soloist (2009)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. Ivan Dixon! Here's another film I found out about at the student-run theater at University of Chicago. I haven't been back since the pandemic but they unearthed some incredible films there, this one isn't executed as great as its premise but its premise is AMAZING:


    1. I try to avoid knowing much about a movie before seeing it (or a book before reading it, but those days are over) so I only glanced at the Wikipedia page, but the movie got my attention just from the few seconds needed to verify that the download worked OK.

      Definitely on the list, and without the usual months or years wait! Thanks man.

      What a severe injustice that Ivan Dixon is mostly remembered for Hogan's Heroes.

    2. I won't stand idly by as anyone disparages Hogan's Heroes!

      You seen this?


      Paul Schrader in minor mode, but entertaining as hell. Fucking Willem Dafoe is always great.

    3. I liked Hogan's Heroes when I was a kid, but still it amazed me nobody complained. Jeez, one generation after the real thing, it gave us comical, cuddly Nazis.

    4. Paul Schrader made a movie about the Bob Crane sex scandal... If I ever even knew this existed I'd forgotten it.

      The preview doesn't look that great, 2b honest, probably because PS didn't write the movie, but PS made a movie about the Bob Crane sex scandal and I gotta see it.

    5. It's fucking great, but obviously not as personal as some of his others. But the two leads are fantastic. It's like a great hangout/buddy picture that goes terribly wrong, heh

      What I find perplexing is a film like The Great Escape, which was more or less concurrent with Hogan's Heroes and has the *exact* same subject/setting... everyone takes it seriously, but I think it's far worse than something like Hogan's Heroes: just as much misguided "comedy" (Hogan's is funnier) and the "drama" is typical stodgy cornball pre-new Hollywood, with dimwits like Steve McQueen narcissistically mugging and brooding (but he still gets to do his stoopid vroom vroom motorcycle stunts) and the direction by Sturges is typically turgid and lifeless. One of the worst prison break films ever made.

      You want a good - the best! - film about prisoners of war/resistance fighters/etc, you want Melville's Army of Shadows. That's a film.


    6. Shirley, you can't be serious. The Great Escape is a fine action movie, wildly untrue and probably impossible as depicted, despite claims to being based on a true story. Judged as an action movie it's not "typical stodgy cornball pre-new Hollywood," it's better-than-average stodgy cornball pre-new Hollywood. You stand corrected.

      I am struggling to get Melville's Army of Shadows with subtitties. Root for me. Still trying.


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