Is there some actors or actresses that you loved all their films you’ve seen so far? Sidney Poitier is, for me, one of them. I haven’t seen all his films yet, only Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? A Patch of Blue, In the Heat of the Night, The Defiant Ones, Edge of the City and Blackboard Jungle, but I’ve enjoyed them all very much. Plus, Sidney Poitier is such an awesome (and handsome!) actor. I don’t know what the world of cinema would be without his wonderful acting skills and his irresistible smile.
If you ask me what is my favourite Sidney Poitier’s film, I think I’ll have to go with A Patch of Blue. Of course, they are all great, but there’s something so special about this one. So, that’s the one I’ll be focusing on today.
Just like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? and In the Heat of the Night, A Patch of Blue is one of those anti-racist movies made in the sixties and starring Poitier. The story involves a young white blind girl ( Elizabeth Hartman) who becomes friends with a black man (Sidney Poitier) and eventually falls in love with him. The fact that she is blind or not is not important, because Selina D’Arcy’s love for him is not stopped by all the racial prejudices. However, apart from this wonderful friendship with Gordon, Selina has to face some difficult times with her cruel mother, Rose-Ann (Shelley Winters) and her alcoholic grandfather “Ole Pa” (Wallace Ford). They live in very poor conditions; Selina has never been to school, she is neglected by her mother and, worst of all, she is used as a maid in the house. Of course, when she’ll meet Gordon in a park, things will change.
A Patch of Blue was directed by Guy Green in 1965 and the story was based on the novel by Elizabeth Kata, Be Ready with Bells and Drums. For her terrific and very convincing performance, Shelly Winters won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. The film was also nominated for Best Actress (Elizabeth Hartman), Best Cinematography (Robert Burks), Best Original Score (Jerry Goldsmith) and Best Production Design.
A Patch of Blue is one of those films that makes you appreciate the simple things in life. The character of Selina d’Arcy is a real inspiration, not only for us, but also for Gordon, who discovers that one doesn’t necessarily need much to be happy. Since she is five, Selina lives in the darkness, but since she is born, she lives with a cruel mother who forbid her to be happy. So, when Selina has a new friend, her life changes completely. Gordon is certainly fascinated by Selina’s joy when she drinks pineapple juice, when she goes to the grocery store with him (my favourite part of the film – I work in a grocery store and when one of my friends was working with me, we were also doing some caddie rides!), or when she listens to Gordon’s little music box.
But, for Selina, the most difficult thing about being blind is probably the loneliness. She can’t go to the park alone (until Gordon shows her how), she doesn’t have anyone for her at home and, this scene when she is alone in the park waiting for her grandfather to pick her is certainly one of the most heartbreaking.
If “friend” is Selina’s favourite word, Gordon’s one is “tolerance”. Of course, this refers to the racial subject highlighted by the movie. People need to be more tolerant and accept the friendship and eventually the possible love relation between a black and a white person. Of course, Selina’s mother will do everything to put an end to this friendship, but we’ll soon discover that she’s not that strong… The 60s were, of course, a very important moment in the United States as the black people were starting to make their right heard, but much was still to be done (and even if the society advanced a lot since then, even today the situation is not perfect).
Tolerance and patience.
If Sidney Poitier, Shelley Winters and Wallace Ford were already well known actors at the time, A Patch of Blue introduced Elizabeth Hartman to the world of cinema. It was indeed her first film. She was 22. What a bright way to start a career! What a tour de force! Playing the role of someone blind is certainly not an easy thing. You have to be convincing otherwise it won’t work. Elizabeth Hartman could do this. Plus, she is absolutely adorable as a sweet and innocent girl. The way she expresses emotions : joy, sadness, anger, love is simply inspiring and makes us realize that the world needs more people like Selina d’Arcy. Of course, her Oscar nomination was quite well deserved. Unfortunately, she lost it to Julie Christie for Darling. I cannot really compare as I haven’t seen this film.
This is the only Elizabeth Hartman’s film I’ve seen so far, but it makes me curious to see more. I was so sad when I learned that she died very young at the age of 43 by committing suicide. When we see her in such a beautiful role as Selina d’Arcy, we would like to go back in time and do everything to help her.
Sidney Poitier is without any doubts great too, as always. His smile and his laugh get me all the time. He makes us laugh, think and fall in love with him just like Selina. His wisdom and Selina’s (Elizabeth) one are perfectly teamed-up and that’s one of the reasons why the two actors have such a great on-screen chemistry.
According to IMDB, Shelly Winters hated the role of Rose-Ann. That’s comprehensible as she is a terrible person! But Shelly had no pity for Rose-Ann and played her as she was meant to be. Playing mean characters is always something more difficult as it sometimes involves being someone completely different. Unless you are a cruel person in real life, but I don’t think it was the case for Shirley Winters. Her performance is perfect as she succeeds to make us hate her. That’s the main purpose of this character. Without revealing it, the last scene involving her is priceless. She simply realizes the consequences of what she has done. But it’s too late…
Finally, if this film was Elizabeth Hartman’s first one, it unfortunately was Wallace Ford’s last one. Wallace Ford is one of those actors that you can’t not like. He often played supporting roles, but each time he’s a delight. Of course, we’re not too fond of Ole Pa, but he’s not that much of a bad guy. Of course, he drinks, he’s selfish and doesn’t do much to protect Selina from her mother, but we just feel he’s very vulnerable. Wallace Ford was only 68 when he died in 1966.
On a more technical plan, one thing that always struck me about this film is the poesy created by the black and white cinematography and the score. The softness of the music and the image allow the difficult moments of the film to be “beautiful” and the happy moments to be even more beautiful than they already are. We have the same effect in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980)
The films’ main theme:
Finally, as for the screenplay, we have an interesting evolution of Selina’s character and this one is certainly helped by the presence of Gordon, who has a major impact on her life and how she will then survive as a blind girl.
As for the dialogues, some quotes in the film really make us think as they are full of meaning. Here are a few examples:
1- Selina D’Arcy: I know everything I need to know about you. I love you.
[touching Gordon’s face]
Selina D’Arcy: I know you’re good, and kind. I know you’re colored and I…
Gordon Ralfe: What’s that?
Selina D’Arcy: …And I think you’re beautiful!
Gordon Ralfe: [smiling] Beautiful? Most people would say the opposite.
Selina D’Arcy: Well that’s because they don’t know you.
2- Selina D’Arcy: It’s wonderful to have a friend.
You might wonder why the film is called “A Patch of Blue”. It’s simply because the color Selina can remember the most is blue. She remembers the sky is blue.
But of course, it sometimes can be grey. It’s in a grey sky that Selina lived all her life, until Gordon came to her. He was this patch of blue in the grey sky.
A Patch of Blue is a film that will make you think. About love, friendship, racial problems and hope. It’s a real inspiration.