A landmark of American cinema, this uniquely truthful depiction of black life in early 1960s Alabama rightly won great acclaim at the Venice, London and New York film festivals. Though it then sank into relative obscurity, a recent restoration by the Library of Congress has again made its many virtues gloriously apparent. When railroad labourer Duff (Ivan Dixon) meets teacher Josie (Abbey Lincoln), he decides it’s time to settle down to marriage and a factory job. Trouble is, he’s expected to tolerate white bosses who, wittingly or not, are unfailingly racist, and Duff has his pride. Moreover, the couple have to deal not only with the disapproval of Josie’s preacher father, but with Duff’s son by a previous relationship and his own alcoholic father… Terrific performances by the mostly African American cast, eloquent camerawork by Roemer’s writing partner Robert M Young, and a matchless soundtrack of Motown tunes make for understated but powerful drama. Still more impressive, the film provides persuasive insights into how social conditions can influence not only relationships but notions of masculinity, responsibility and resistance, so that it still feels surprisingly modern and relevant.
We discuss the films featuring in the Black History Month season on this month’s podcast. Tune in (from 8 minutes 10 seconds) to find out more