Daniel Petrie, 1961 (8.6*)
Winner of the Gary Cooper Award at Cannes
One of the first major plays to deal with the frustrations and economic plight of lower-class black families in urban America, from author Lorraine Hansberry, makes an emotional tour de force film for a terrific cast, led by Sidney Poitier as the sole-surviving adult male of the family, Walter Lee Younger. He shares a small two-bedroom tenement apartment in Chicago with his wife, his son, who is forced to sleep on the couch, and his mother and sister, who share the other bedroom.
Even though he has a steady job as a chauffeur for a wealthy white family, the other adults are forced to engage in part-time work in stereotypical jobs, such as kitchen, maid and laundry work. His sister, a part-time student, has dreams of becoming a doctor, while Sidney has dreams of making it big in some emerging business opportunity, as a friend did in dry cleaning.
Most of the film takes place in the small apartment, so we feel both the claustrophobia and despair of their situation. The mother immigrated there from the deep south when a teen, in order to escape racism and to find some opportunity for advancement out of poverty, which until her husband's death has been an elusive and unattainable dream.
The play and film begin as a glimmer of hope is on its way in the form of a life insurance check for ten thousand following the death of his father, who also lived in the apartment for most of his adult life as well. His mother, played by Claudia McNeil in a Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated performance as the new head of the family, hasn't decided yet what to do with all the money, while the rest of the family dreams what it could mean to each of them. Along the way we get to see a very young Lou Gossett, Jr., and Ivan Dixon in small parts as romantic interests of the sister.
It may seem a little stagy, but it's obvious that director Petrie wanted to keep the feel and intimacy of the play. At times it seems a bit overemotional perhaps, with some acting bordering on histrionics; nevertheless, the entire cast turns in excellent, heart-rending performances, led by Poitier and Ruby Dee as his wife. This is a tough pill to swallow, but if you've grown up poor or within a minority, it feels right on target and gives honest expression to the plight of the economically deprived in this over-abundant yet unequal nation. Given the current economic climate, it truly seems that some things never change.
Quote: "God seems to have only given black people dreams, but also their children in order to provide hope for those dreams."
Note: This was the first Broadway play written by a black woman and directed by a black man.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Daniel Petrie, 1961 (8.6*)