Nothing but a Man


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Michael Roemer’s groundbreaking first feature, sensitively shot by his close collaborator Robert M. Young, is a still-resonant expression of humanity in the face of virulent prejudice. Made at the height of the civil rights movement, Nothing but a Man reveals the toll of systemic racism through its honest portrait of a southern Black railroad worker (Ivan Dixon) confronting the daily challenges of discrimination and economic precarity, as he attempts to settle down with his new wife (jazz great Abbey Lincoln) and track down his father (Julius Harris). Admired by Malcolm X and now recognized as a landmark of American cinema, this tender film grounds its social critique in characters of unforgettable complexity and truth.

Picture 9/10

Michael Roemer’s Nothing but a Man receives a new Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection, presented on a dual-layer disc with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1.

Derived from a new 4K restoration and scanned from the original 35mm negative, the new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is genuinely remarkable. While a few minor flaws and a handful of shots appear to be limited by the source, overall, the restoration work is outstanding. The scan captures all of the intricate details present, from fine textures to tight patterns, with the encode effectively rendering every nuance on screen. Notably, even the tightest patterns, like crosshatches, are cleanly depicted without any jagged edges or shimmering effects.

The black-and-white cinematography is stunning, boasting wide contrast and an impressive grayscale. Shadow detail is excellent, seamlessly blending the film's smokey interiors. Furthermore, the encode itself is impeccably clean, with grain rendered beautifully without any discernible artifacts or noise.

Ultimately, this release offers a visually stunning and impressive presentation that does justice to the film's look while also retaining a wonderful film texture.

Audio 7/10

The film’s monaural soundtrack is presented in lossless single-channel PCM. I was expecting a soundtrack limited by the film’s low budget, but it can be surprisingly robust. The range is fairly wide, and fidelity is excellent. The dialogue is clear and sharp, and I detected no distortion or damage.

Extras 5/10

Criterion includes a handful of interviews, including a new 25-minute one with director Michael Roemer (Roemer mentions Young was too ill to participate at the recording time, with the filmmaker having passed away recently). Though a large chunk of the interview focuses on Nothing but a Man, it is presented more as a career retrospective. Roemer talks about his early life and first meeting Robert M. Young, with whom he would work on several projects before eventually making this one. He talks about the inspiration behind it and what they hoped to tell with it (making sure to place some focus on the economic factors). He also shares stories about casting (he seems very proud of finding Julius Harris) and his experiences while making it, the German immigrant having his eyes wide open to the racial divide in the country. Despite the film being a minor success, his career pretty much stagnated, which he seems to blame on what he calls the “disaster” that followed, The Plot Against Harry (which was eventually released in 1989, and in a huge coincidence, I came across the Siskel & Ebert episode where they cover it after looking for the episode where they discuss widescreen on home video).

It's a fantastic look at his career and the making of the film. However, the latter is explored further through two archival features, re-edited from a feature found on the 2004 DVD edition, one featuring Young and Roemer in discussion (running 23 minutes) and the other featuring actors Ivan Dixon, Abbey Lincoln, and Julius Harris (running 13 minutes). The discussion between the two filmmakers is pretty great on its own, with the two sharing more stories (including a run-in with a local sheriff not impressed with their presence) and talking about story and film choices. The actors' piece is also good, though not as in-depth, sadly. Lincoln only shows up in the last minute or two, and Dixon doesn’t get much. Harris, at the very least, gets a bit more focus. He comes up in the other features, too, mentioning that he did get into acting entirely by accident, basically on a bet. Harris explains how this happened in more detail, and it is pretty wild, so I’ll leave him to tell the story. Though still not as in-depth as I would have wanted (a career retrospective would have been fantastic), all of this material with Harris is probably one of the release’s most substantial inclusions.

Though the interviews are good, the material still feels very underwhelming overall. There’s an excellent essay by Gene Seymour on the film in the included insert, covering the film’s topics and its history (receiving a revival in the 90s). Still, it doesn’t compensate for the lack of other academic material. Somewhat underwhelming.


The release significantly lacks in the academic area, but the new high-definition presentation somewhat makes up for it. The presentation looks remarkable.


Directed by: Michael Roemer
Year: 1964
Time: 91 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1209
Licensor: Janus Films
Release Date: February 20 2024
MSRP: $39.95
1 Disc | BD-50
1.37:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region A
 An Introduction to Michael Roemer, a new interview program featuring Roemer   Conversation from 2004 between Michael Roemer and coproducer and cinematographer Robert M. Young   Program featuring archival interviews with actors Ivan Dixon, Abbey Lincoln, and Julius Harris   An essay by critic Gene Seymour