Sunday, March 23, 2008

cinema obscura: Joseph Sargent's "The Man" (1972)


Boasting a screenplay written by Rod Serling (from the Irving Wallace novel), Joseph Sargent's 1972 "The Man" hasn't been seen in years, kept under wraps by its distributor, Paramount Pictures.

However, given its subject matter and given the interest and excitement surrounding one of the current Presidental candidates, it might be worth Paramount's time and effort to unearth Sargent's film and finally give it a DVD release. In it, James Earl Jones plays the first black man to serve as President of the United States.

Three decades ago, this country was at a place when it would have been impossible for a black man to run as a candidate. In "The Man," Jones' Douglas Dilman is a senator who inherits the top spot, following the rather convenient deaths of the standing President, Vice President and Speaker of the House - one of whom dies of natural causes, while the other two perish in a ghastly accident. Dilman is well aware of the precarious position he's in, knowing full well that neither he nor any other black man would be electable. Serling's script, while probably somewhat dated now, fully investigates the elusive notion of racial progress.

The supporting roles include Lew Ayres as the aged Vice President and that wonderful character actor William Windom as a bigoted politician, plus Martin Balsam, Burgess Meredith, Barbara Rush, Patric Knowles and three of the more prominent young black performers of the era, Georg Sanford Brown, Robert DoQui and Janet MacLachlan (as Jones's daughter).

"The Man," whatever flaws or age lines it might have, should mesh perfectly with what has become the age of Obama. At the very least, it provides a preview of a world not dominated by a white man. And personally - and politically - speaking, I'm frankly sick of white men.

And I say that as a white man.

Release "The Man" on DVD already!

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Poster Art for Joseph Sargent's "The Man," with a script by Rod Serling; and James Earl Jones, its star)

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1 comment:

jbryant said...

I got to see this a few years ago when a friend in film and TV development was hoping to mount a remake. I gave him some story notes and we brainstormed for a while, but nothing ever came of it.

Quite a fascinating film, with an amazing cast, as you note. I think it's too dated to work now, especially given the Obama campaign, which may well succeed without the necessity of sudden illnesses or accidents.

It definitely beats the hell out of Chris Rock's "Head of State."