Sammy Davis Jr. may be best known for being a singer and overall entertainer but, like many members of the Rat Pack, he also did his fair share of acting. As the title character of Leo Penn’s A Man Called Adam and Eartha Kitt’s no-good boyfriend in Arnold Laven’s Anna Lucasta, Davis’ talent is on full display and, thanks to Kino Lorber, both films are getting the Blu-Ray and DVD treatment next month.
Given how many times A Star Is Born has been remade, Hollywood has always been drawn to the tortured artist narrative. That doesn’t mean A Man Called Adam isn’t a sterling example of the genre. Adam (Davis) may be “the first man of the trumpet” but he’s also nursing some serious demons and quick to lash out at his friends and colleagues. Cicely Tyson plays the girlfriend who’s going to try and save him, or maybe not save him (because she doesn’t try to change him too much and basically accepts him for who he is) but no matter how much Adam tries to push her way, she always comes back. Instead of wasting time on reunions or make-up scenes, though, the film mostly has her be back, without any fuss. What makes their relationship different, too, is Adam never expects her to return. He’s not without self-awareness.
As the film goes on, you find out what happened to Adam and that there was a specific incident that triggered his self-loathing. Kino Lorber’s release comes with a commentary by film historian and critic, Sergio Mims. In it he talks about Davis getting to play unlikeable and how there weren’t many parts like that for Black actors in the 60’s. Sidney Poitier would’ve never played someone who kicks Louis Armstrong out of his hotel room the way Davis does in this movie. Apparently, Nat King Cole was originally considered for the part of Adam, and Mims names some other films which center around jazz trumpeters. A Man Called Adam also looks at racism, including a scene where Adam gets arrested.
Davis’ role in Anna Lucasta is a lot smaller (especially going by his second billing on the cover), but he’s so good in this movie and that goes for the whole cast. Danny (Davis) is a sailor in the Navy with commitment issues. He wants Kitt’s Anna to move in with him but doesn’t want to get married. Meanwhile Anna hasn’t seen her family since her father (Rex Ingram) kicked her out of the house. Suddenly when they see an opportunity to marry her off to someone who will help them financially, they decide to reach out and invite her back. Not all of Anna’s family are self-seeking but they all give incredible performances. Danny could’ve easily been a leech, yet his concern for Anna comes through and it’s consistent. He doesn’t just have a change of heart at the end. You see him waffle back and forth through the whole movie, often silently.
Anna Lucasta and A Man Called Adam are available on Blu-Ray and DVD starting February 2nd. They make a great double feature and are terrific additions to Kino Lorber’s library.