A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich Ralph Nelson

Would that this 1978 film had a stronger director. Adapting Alice Childress's famous novel requires a stronger hand and a deeper understanding of the people it depicts but Ralph Nelson can only give this story of oppression and addiction a shallow TV-movie gloss. Larry B. Scott is 13-year-old Benjie, a black boy navigating the loss of his father and the drug-infested L.A. neighbourhood in which he lives. Intelligent but unmotivated, he falls into addiction, to the horror of his long-suffering mother (Cicely Tyson) and her bewildered ex-musician boyfriend (Paul Winfield). It's a battle between his pride and his surroundings as he struggles to kick the habit and maintain his dignity. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the outline, and one can imagine it making a powerful movie in the hands of a sensitive director. But Nelson, a TV veteran with countless episodes under his belt, directs with a dull professionalism that downplays everything. Given the sensational hysteria with which addiction is usually depicted (and African-Americans are usually stereotyped), this might seem like a good thing, but he swings the pendulum so far in the opposite direction that the thing just lies there motionless. You're not offended by it but that's all you can say for it, as it gives you the main narrative line and not much else. Once again, Winfield is better than the movie he's in, giving nuance and life to some pretty clunky dialogue; his failed ambitions make sense, as does his carry-on-regardless resignation. You wish that he was a director as well as an actor and could have raised the whole movie to his level. (Koch)