Still from the film Nothing But a Man (1964) showing a man lying in the grass looking lovingly at a woman

The Cool World / Nothing But a Man

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The UCLA Film & Television Archive presents classic film and contemporary cinema in the Hammer's Billy Wilder Theater.

Part of the series American Neorealism, Part One: 1948–1984

The Cool World

Shirley Clarke followed up The Connection (1962) with this searing tale of Duke, a youth who seeks to lead his gang, the Royal Pythons. To gain the necessary status, he searches for a gun, which leads him on an inevitable downward spiral. Based on the novel and play by Warren Miller and Robert Rossen, Clarke and companion Carl Lee take their literary source to the streets to create an uncompromising portrait of their subjects’ lives. Shot primarily with non-actors and actual gang members cast from students in Harlem junior high schools, it vividly conveys the dire environment and its pressures. Albert Johnson called it “the best film ever made about American Negro life in Harlem, and almost prophetic in its implications.” The film is also noted for its score by jazz great Mal Waldron, and was produced by Frederick Wiseman, who would soon begin his own noted documentary career. (1964, dir. Shirley Clarke, 35mm, black and white, 105 min.)

Print courtesy of Zipporah Films and preserved by the Library of Congress Packard Campus for National Audio-Visual Conservation from the original camera negatives in the Zipporah Films Collection.

Nothing But a Man

For Duff (Ivan Dixon), an African American railroad worker in Jim Crow Alabama, his itinerant lifestyle is a survival strategy: “They can’t get to you if you keep moving.” When he falls for a preacher’s daughter (Abbey Lincoln), he’s forced to confront racial injustice as the price of settling down. Writer-director Michael Roemer and his outstanding cast strike that rare balance between realistically drawn characters and an incisive analysis of the social and economic forces that would deny them their dignity. (1964, dir. Michael Roemer, 35mm, black and white, 92 min.)

Restored by the Library of Congress Packard Campus for National Audio-Visual Conservation. Print courtesy of Cinema Conservancy.