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The Man
Directed byJoseph Sargent
Screenplay byRod Serling
Based onThe Man
by Irving Wallace
Produced byLee Rich
StarringJames Earl Jones
CinematographyEdward Rosson
Edited byGeorge Jay Nicholson
Music byJerry Goldsmith
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
July 19, 1972 (1972-07-19)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Man is a 1972 American political drama film directed by Joseph Sargent[1] and starring James Earl Jones. Jones plays Douglass Dilman, the President pro tempore of the United States Senate, who succeeds to the presidency through a series of unforeseeable events, thereby becoming both the first African-American president and the first wholly unelected one. The screenplay, written by Rod Serling,[1] is largely based upon The Man, a novel by Irving Wallace.[2] In addition to being the first black president more than thirty-six years before the real-world occurrence, the fictional Dilman was also the first president elected to neither that office nor to the Vice Presidency, foreshadowing the real-world elevation of Gerald Ford by less than twenty-five months.[3]


When the president of the United States and speaker of the House of Representatives are killed at a summit in Frankfurt when the building hosting them collapses, Vice President Noah Calvin, suffering from a terminal illness, refuses to assume of the office of president. Secretary of State Arthur Eaton corrects a popular misconception that he is next in the line of succession, who is actually president pro temp Douglass Dilman. Dilman, a black man, arrives at the White House and is sworn in as president. Eaton's wife Kay berates her husband for not trying to become president, but Eaton assures her that he will assume the presidency once Dilman proves unable to handle the job.

Eaton and his advisers arrive at the Oval Office for a meeting with Dilman, giving him a binder which includes pre-written responses to media questions which support the previous president's policies. Dilman proceeds to the briefing room, and answers the media using Eaton's responses. However, when a reporter accuses Dilman of being a puppet, he discards Eaton's binder and proceeds on his own initiative, deciding to make his own decisions. As a moderate, Dilman is confronted by extremists from both ends of the political spectrum due to his race. Robert Wheeler, a young black man, is sought for extradition from the South African government for allegedly attempting to assassinate the country's Minister of Defence. Dilman offers to help Wheeler after he claims that he was in Burundi at the time of the assassination attempt.

A senator named Watson introduces a bill which would required congressional approval for any dismissal of a cabinet member by the president. Though Eaton does not inform Dilman of the bill, he is informed of it by a group of black congressmen who meet with the president to voice their concerns. Dilman subsequently reprimand Eaton for not bringing the bill to his attention. Watson visits the embassy of South Africa in Washington, D.C., where the South African ambassador shows him a recording proving that Wheeler was in South Africa during the assassination attempt. After the recording is made public, the ensuing scandal threatens Dilman's presidency. Dilman subsequently obtains Wheeler's confession and approves his extradition, which alienates his daughter Wanda. When Wheeler calls Dilman a "house nigger", he responds by stating that "black men don't burn churches and kill four children; they don't hunt down a Martin Luther King with a telescopic sight. Passion may drive you to the streets to throw a brick, but to buy a gun, plant an alibi and travel 5000 miles and kill a human being is bloodless, worthy of the selective morality of Adolf Eichmann."

Dilman addresses reporters at his party's presidential nominating convention, where Eaton is by now openly challenging him for the presidential nomination with Watson's support. The president explains that while some people view political violence as the only solution to present issues, he will continue to rely on peaceful means. Evading questions over the Wheeler scandal, Dilman assures the reporters that he is going to "fight like hell" against Eaton to win the nomination. To the tune of "Hail to the Chief", he is introduced to the convention delegates.



The Man was released in theatres on July 19, 1972.[4]


Film critic Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote in his review: "The Man, which opened yesterday at the Cinema I Theater, is the triumphantly short (93-minute) film version of Irving Wallace's almost endless (actually, 768-page) novel about the first black President of the United States. [...] At one time or another most of us have seen ceilings fall—in kitchens, in living rooms, in bathrooms—usually because of faulty plumbing. It's no fun and always a mess, with the plaster dust and all. But this one was obviously a whopper, being high and probably marble. It's an indication of the difficulty I had in relating to The Man that for the rest of the movie, which only exploits ceilings as melodramatic conveniences, I kept wondering what really happened. Hadn't anyone—the C.I.A. or somebody—checked out the palace? Had the Russians been fiddling around? Did a loo leak? I simply couldn't buy the casual explanation: 'Well, you know those old palaces, Jim.' About halfway through The Man, one comes to realize that, in its own unwitting way, the film is much more interested in contemplating incompetence than in presenting any ideas about politics, race relations, international diplomacy, personal ambition, courage, or what-have-you. [...] If The Man were a better movie, it might possibly be offensive. It isn't. It's silly and innocent, and when the band strikes up 'Hail to the Chief', it invites an idiotic tear. Rod Serling, who wrote the story and screenplay, has reworked and recut the original novel as if he were a tailor remodeling an old-fashioned suit to conform with current fashions, and Joseph Sargent, whose direction of The Forbin Project I admired, has made sure that it's all in focus."[4]

In an interview with Greg Braxton of the Los Angeles Times that ran January 16, 2009, four days before Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, Jones was asked about having portrayed the fictional first black U.S. president on film. He replied: "I have misgivings about that one. It was done as a TV special. Had we known it was to be released as a motion picture, we would have asked for more time and more production money. I regret that."[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b "The Man". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  2. ^ Wallace, Irving (1965). The Man (1st ed.). United Kingdom: Cassell. ASIN B004VMWH9A.
  3. ^ The Man was released on July 19, 1972. Gerald Ford assumed the Vice Presidency on December 6, 1973, his appointment having been approved by both houses of Congress. Ford assumed the Presidency eight months later, on August 9, 1974, pursuant to Richard Nixon's resignation.
  4. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (July 20, 1972). "Irving Wallace's 'The Man':Political Movie Stars James Earl Jones". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved June 22, 2017.
  5. ^ Greg Braxton, This Is James Earl Jones, The Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2009