Nothing but a Man (1964)
Sometimes, while digging through the goodies at the local video shop you'll stumble across a little gem that was so far ahead of its time that its subsequent obscurity is both understandable and criminal. Such is the case with two 1960s films by writer/director Michael Roemer, the Mob comedy The Plot Against Harry and the gritty drama Nothing but a Man. In Man, Ivan Dixon plays an erratically employed African-American laborer who has the misfortune to live in 1963 Alabama, where he romances a shy minister's daughter (jazz singer Abbey Lincoln), rescues his son from his estranged girlfriend's decaying urban neighborhood, and puts up with a whole lotta crap from whitey. That might sound dated and didactic, but it's anything but; aside from the inclusion of a few particulars of the Jim Crow-era South, the black-and-white Man plays almost like a 1990s' indie, steeped in low-budget realism. Most astonishing is the then-contemporary Motown soundtrack, which predates Easy Rider's "revolutionary" use of rock-era hits as incidental music. Note to Homicide fans: Look for a young Yaphet Kotto in a supporting role.