A MAN CALLED ADAM
(director: Leo Penn; screenwriters: Lester Pine/Tina Rome; cinematographer: Jack Priestley; editor: Carl Lerner; music: Benny Carter; cast: Sammy Davis Jr. (Adam Johnson), Cicely Tyson (Claudia Ferguson), Ossie Davis (Nelson Davis), Mel Torme (Himself), Peter Lawford (Manny), Lola Falana (Theo), Jeanette Du Bois (Martha), Louie Armstrong (Willie “Sweet Daddy” Ferguson), Frank Sinatra Jr. (Vincent), Michael Silvs (George), Johnny Brown (Blind Les), George Rhodes (Leroy), Michael Lipton (Bobby Gales), Kenneth Tobey (Club Owner); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ike Jones/James Waters; Lionsgate/Embassy Pictures; 1966-B/W)
“It remains a curiosity film long after its release.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
TV director Leo Penn (“Judgement in Berlin”) directs this indie in a heavy-handed manner. It’s a muddled jazz melodrama about racism, whose mixed-race cast, mostly black, features the Rat Pack and other popular guest stars like Mel Torme, plus some great jazz musicians (like the great jazz musician Nat Adderley providing the trumpet play for Davis). The writers are Lester Pine and Tina Rome, who can’t make the story ring true. But it remains a curiosity film long after its release.
Black trumpet player Adam Johnson (Sammy Davis, Jr.) is a tortured soul because he feels responsible for the death of his wife and child in a car accident 10 years ago, because he was driving while drunk. After returning home to NYC from a bad road trip to Cincy, where he walked out in the middle of his act after being racially taunted, he learns his best friend Nelson Davis (Ossie Davis) lent his apartment to the jazz musician Willie “Sweet Daddy” Ferguson (Louie Armstrong) and his pretty civil rights activist granddaughter, Claudia (Cicely Tyson). But he’s humbled when she rejects him.
Adam has an alcohol problem and a bad temper. Over time Claudia thinks she understands him and they fall in love, as she tries to reform him.
But his heartless white agent Manny (Peter Lawford) sets him up on a bum tour of one-nighters in the segregated South, which he reluctantly accepts out of financial need after blackballed for threatening the booking agent. On the tour, Adam’s overcome by racism and injustice he witnesses first-hand.
The one white member of the band, Adam’s protégé, Vincent (Frank Sinatra Jr.), is beaten by three white youths, and Adam is too paralyzed with confusion to help.
Back home, the paranoid Adam, not fully recovered from the racial incident down south, joins Willie to play with him at a local club. But after putting on a great performance, collapses onstage from fatigue and dies as a self-proclaimed martyr.
REVIEWED ON 8/16/2020 GRADE: C+