Today: February 23, 2024

A Man Called Adam

Sammy Davis Jr. is perhaps better known today as a member of the Rat Pack, whose members included the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. On-screen he was often cast as the wise-cracker, but in real life he worked tirelessly in support of racial equality, often finding himself on the receiving end of threats as a result of his activism.

In A Man Called Adam, Davis pins his politics firmly on his sleeve, as a hard-drinking jazz musician whose life begins to turn around when he meets a straight-talking civil rights activist (Cicely Tyson). 

Directed by Leo Pennfather of SeanA Man Called Adam film features a predominantly black cast in an era when black actors were rarely cast, and even more rarely cast as believable, three-dimensional characters.

Davis does sterling work, adding fire to a film that may, to modern audiences, seem slow and overly ponderous. Louis Armstrong makes a rare acting appearance as Tyson’s grandfather and, as would be expected, he also does the business musically, with dazzling performances of Back O’ Town Blues and All That Jazz.

As a drama, A Man Called Adam is a tough viewing experience. Adam is a good man—and a talented musician—pitted against a system designed to chew him up and spit him out. There are no solutions or happy endings. It’s also film that casts the ‘60s into sharp relief and tells you in no uncertain terms that, no, it wasn’t all peace and free love. For all that, A Man Called Adam is well worth watching, if only to see how far society has changed—and how far it still needs to. 

StudioCanal’s new release is fully restored with commentaries from jazz expert, Jumoke Fashola, and film historian Sergio Mims.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email:

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