One Man (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Feb 28, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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One Man (Blu-ray Review)


Robin Spry

Release Date(s)

1977 (February 27, 2024)


National Film Board (Canadian International Pictures/Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A

One Man (Blu-ray)

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Years before the film Erin Brockovich took on the issue of industrial pollution poisoning innocent people, the modest 1977 Canadian film One Man addressed the problem. Made on a budget of just over $600,000, it received limited release in Toronto and Ottawa and aired on CBC Television two years later. It also had a brief theatrical run in New York City.

Jason Brady (Len Cariou, About Schmidt) is an investigative reporter for a Canadian TV station. When we first meet him, he and his cameraman Ernie Carrick (August Schellenberg) are in a car speeding to the site of a gangland shooting in progress, racing to be first to cover the story. Ernie films Jason checking the bodies, footage that will garner ratings on the evening news.

At a Montreal hospital, he encounters Marion Galbraith (Carol Lazare, The Fly), who tells him that several local children are being poisoned by toxic fumes from a nearby factory. When the victims start dying, Brady realizes he’s onto a big story. But exposing the tie between the deaths and the factory is fraught with obstacles. The TV station, fearing lawsuits, insists on definitive proof. The head of the company that runs the factory, Colin Campbell (Barry Morse, The Changeling), learns that the reporter is nosing around and uses threats and strong-arm tactics to silence him.

A husband and father of three, Brady is so obsessed with getting the story out that his home life is suffering. He keeps late hours and is seldom home as he meets with Marion, follows leads, and does all he can to gather solid evidence. His wife, Alicia (Jayne Eastwood, Videodrome), is unhappy and accuses him of putting the story ahead of his family. Their already shaky marriage is put to a severe test when Brady’s meetings with Marion become increasingly frequent.

As the story progresses, we see Brady’s fearlessness give way to concern for his own safety and his family’s. Both Campbell and union members fear that the factory could be shut down, putting the factory owner out of business and leaving the workers unemployed, and use strong-arm tactics to halt the investigation.

Director Robin Spry incorporates a few action sequences to give the film a cinematic flourish, but the essence of the film is the destructive consequences of the actions of people in positions of power. Campbell feels invulnerable, protected by lawyers, intimidation tactics, and sheer hubris. Angry and realizing the urgency of making his findings public, Brady finds himself pitted not only against Campbell, but also against TV station executives wary of Campbell’s power.

A subplot of Brady and Marion becoming romantically involved taints the plot. Spry wants to complicate Brady’s aggressive pursuit of the Big Story by showing its effect on his personal life, but his relationship with Marion comes out of left field. Yes, they meet frequently. She’s eager to get the story public and Brady is the means. He cannot immediately satisfy her impatience because of legal considerations, so there’s an element of conflict between them. That this should conveniently get them into bed together is an unlikely stretch.

Spry made this feature through the National Film Board of Canada after having made a number of short films for the Board. He wanted to move into feature film production and felt this socially conscious film was the right project. The film has the appearance of a docudrama blended with a fictional drama. Spry paints the film with broad strokes, making Brady merely the catalyst to exposing the deadly negligence of the factory owner.

Cariou, known mostly from his roles in Broadway musicals such as A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd, is believable as the reporter chasing a huge story. With his family, he’s a typical husband and dad. Out in the field, he’s aggressive and determined, and acts with a sense of righteousness. He’s the medium through which an evil will be crushed. There’s an arrogance about him that comes from self-assurance and experience. He also knows breaking this story could be instrumental in accelerating his career to greater heights. But will his family be collateral damage?

Lazare’s Marion and Eastwood’s Alicia represent the diametric forces acting on Brady. Marion wants social justice, Alicia wants her family back. Both actresses have strong scenes, but Eastwood is the more compelling. Spry takes advantage of this by filming her in close-up to emphasize the range of emotion she conveys. By comparison, Lazare is less emotional, more mechanical in her delivery, and her romantic chemistry with Cariou is weak.

One Man was shot by director of photography Douglas Kiefer on 16 mm Eastmancolor film and printed in 35 mm for theatrical distribution in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. For the Blu-ray, the film was scanned and restored in 2K from the 16 mm interpositive by the National Film Board of Canada. Clarity and contrast are excellent. Detail delineation is especially noticeable in the TV station markings on Brady’s car, kitchen items, hospital equipment, and clothing patterns. Complexions are rendered well. There are no perceptible imperfections, making for a distraction-free viewing experience.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Ambient background newsroom hustle-bustle suggests a busy working environment. Sound effects include screeching tires during a car chase, gun shots, and fight pummeling. The score by Ben Low is reminiscent of movie-of-the-week music—serviceable but not particularly memorable.

Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release from Canadian International Pictures include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Filmmaker/Historian Stephen Broomer
  • One Sister – New Interview with Robin Spry’s Sister, Lib Spry (9:37)
  • One Friend – New Interview with Spry’s Longtime Collaborator, Bob Preser (13:23)
  • Miner (Short Film) (19:15)
  • Change in the Maritimes (Short Film) (13:01)
  • Illegal Abortion (Short Film) (25:17)
  • Ride for Your Life (Short Film) (9:40)
  • Downhill (Short Film) (36:03)
  • The Dowry (Short Film) (20:11)
  • Cell 16 (Short Film) (14:24)
  • Red Shoes (Short Film) (23:46)
  • Trafficopter (Short Film) (10:06)
  • Theatrical Trailer (3:02)

Audio Commentary – Jason Brady is dependent on society. By the end of the picture, he “will be knocked from his perch.” One Man is a look at an investigative reporter in a dangerous city (Montreal in the 1970s). Brady and his cameraman live dangerously. He and wife Alicia share a life of domestic boredom. Alicia cares more about Jason than he does himself. The film sets up “Brady’s dark night of the soul.” Shot entirely with hand-held cameras, the film has a documentary look. The environmental dangers of the world are brought out with the funeral of a child. Other children are shown suffering from toxic contamination. The toxicity of the chemical referred to in the film—B.A.P.—was determined as early as the 1920s. Leaded fuel was ubiquitous. Investigative journalism was regarded as heroic, especially in light of Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting on Watergate and Geraldo Rivera’s expose of horrible living conditions at the Willowbrook facility. This kind of reporting was brave, and rare. Marion Galbraith is the voice of the people and humanism. As Brady contends with an atmosphere of intimidation, his character transforms. One Man portrays investigative journalism in an era of widespread distrust, corruption and conspiracy, and is a consciousness raiser. A lone man is silenced by violent, secretive forces. A single individual who resists is the antithesis of the collaborator. One Man was director Robin Spry’s last film for the National Film Board of Canada. He left to form his own company, Telecine, which was geared to commercial ventures. When One Man was shown on Canadian TV, the press called the film “cheap sensationalism with a message.” The story is emblematic of everyday horrors inflicted on innocent victims of pollution.

One Sister – In this 2023 short, Lib Spry, Robin Spry’s sister, talks about her brother’s career.

One Friend – Bob Preser, Spry’s collaborator for many years, discusses Spry’s prolific film output in this 2023 short. Preser notes, “Spry was fearless.” He left the National Film Board of Canada in the early 1980s to get into feature film production, and made several commercials to help finance them.

Miner – In this 1966 documentary, director Spry focuses on a single miner as he goes about his daily job. The more ore he brings up, the more he gets paid. Close-ups show procedures in mining ore. The film features both black & white and color footage.

Change in the Maritimes – This 1966 color short focuses on Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. The Canadian government wants to make these maritime provinces as rich as the rest of Canada. Poverty in these areas is due to geography and pride. Isolation in the age of mass communication is a problem. The provinces’ natural resources are being exhausted.

Illegal Abortion – This stark black & white 1967 film is a harrowing look at a couple—Susan and Paul—seeking an abortion. It’s illegal in Canada. Their doctor cannot help. Paul gets the name of a doctor who assures the couple that he can perform the procedure. The abortion is extremely painful, with Susan screaming and Paul waiting in another room, feeling helpless.

Ride for Your Life – A motorcycle racer is seen being carried into the hospital in this 1967 short. As he’s gotten older, he’s undergone ever more serious injuries while racing motorcycles and eventually required a hip replacement. He explains his passion by saying, “If you want to be champion, there’s no let-up.” Exciting shots show a race from the rider’s point-of-view.

Downhill – A man is being carried down the mountain and transferred into an ambulance. He had a heart attack on the slopes. He’s there with a younger woman. His grown son Peter sees him and seems surprised that he’s with a woman who’s not his mother. As the father of three, with a heart that’s suffered minor damage, the man finally realizes, after his stay in the hospital, that he wants to come home.

The Dowry – Barbery is a fisherman in the Canadian Maritimes who’s probably most renowned for his broken-down fishing boat, the Nancy J. He hates it and wants to buy a new boat but doesn’t have the money. A small group offer Barbery the money for a new motor for the boat if he agrees to marry his girlfriend, Susan. Barbery, however, doesn’t want to marry Susan until he has a new boat.

Cell 16 – This short looks at the life of one inmate incarcerated at the Collins Bay Penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The focus of attention is on the man’s inner mental anguish and isolation.

Red Shoes – This 1986 film, based on a short story by Lois Sammie, features One Man co-star Carol Lazare in a tale of the indomitable hope of children amid the chaos and cruelty of adult life.

Trafficopter – This 1972 color film is a portrait of Montreal as seen from a local radio station’s traffic helicopter. Freeways, interchanges, bridges, and downtown arteries are laid out in miniature. A teeming spectacle, this film presents a unique view of the city with comments by the traffic guide, Len Rowcliffe.

Booklet – Contained within is the essay The Great Canadian Drama You’ve Probably Never Seen by Albert Ohayon; an interview with Len Cariou; color still photos from One Man; details about the short film Trafficopter; and a reproduction of the film’s poster.

One Man is a nearly forgotten film that deals with a significant subject through one investigative reporter eagerly trying to get the story of how industrial pollution is sickening and killing kids. The screenplay by Robin Spry, Peter Pearson and Peter Madden is reminiscent of The China Syndrome. In both films, a reporter learns from an informant about a cover-up that could have dire consequences. Told from the reporter’s point of view, One Man shows the legal, personal, and emotional ramifications of pursuing the truth.

- Dennis Seuling