BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“A PATCH OF BLUE” – WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Blu-ray; 1965; Not Rated
Best extra: Commentary by Writer/Director Guy Green
SIDNEY POITIER had just won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “Lilies of the Field,” about a traveling handyman who builds a chapel for a group of nuns in the desert. Poitier was the first African American to win the Oscar in that category.
Anxious to build on their star attraction, MGM Studio wanted Poitier to star in a new film and chose “A Patch of Blue,” another film that continues to resonate. But, if the studio thought it would get him for cheap, they had another think coming. In the disc’s lively commentary, Writer/Director Guy Green says MGM ended up paying triple what they expected.
The expense created a bit of a problem when it came to casting Poitier’s co-star. The story is about a black man and a young, blind white woman. Initially, MGM hoped Hayley Mills, America’s English darling and the heroine of many Disney films, would accept the part. Now they couldn’t afford her. The role was offered to Patty Duke, but her agents felt it came too soon after her Oscar-winning performance of the blind, deaf and dumb Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker” (1962).
About 150 newcomers auditioned, but the part of Selina D’Arcey went to shy and sensitive Elizabeth Hartman. She had performed in small roles on stage, but was new to film. “A Cinderella Named Elizabeth,” a fantasy-bio included in Warner Archive’s presentation, explores how Hartman got the part. Green also talks about working with her. It was a great set, he says, talking about his lifelong friendship with Poitier and others who worked on the film. Sadly, as found in many artists, Hartman was plagued by depression throughout her life, and committed suicide in June 1987.
Still, Poitier, Hartman and their co-stars Shelley Winters, Wallace Ford – in his last role – and Ivan Dixon shine in the film adapted from the novel by Australian author Elizabeth Kata. The book is much darker than the film, with a bleak ending. Revised and adapted for screen by Green, with input from producer Pandro S. Berman, “A Patch of Blue” becomes a story of friendship and hope. In a time of civil unrest, it was just what the country needed.
Selina comes from a brutal background. Her mother Rose-Ann beats her and treats her like a slave. Rose-Ann is a bigot; she works at a hotel, but loves to drink and bring “boyfriends” home, one of whom rapes Selina. Winters, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the part, hated her character. She was a strong supporter of Civil Rights and found Rose-Ann personally offensive. True, the character has no redeeming qualities, but Winters gave it her all winning the film’s only Academy Award out of four additional nominations: Best Actress for Hartman; Best Cinematography, Black and White, for Robert Burks; Best Art Direction; and Best Original Music score for Jerry Goldsmith (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E,” “The Waltons,” “The Mummy” (1999), “L.A. Confidential” (1997).
Despite a fine performance, Poitier did not receive an Oscar nod for his role of Gordon Ralfe. Perhaps, Green suggests wryly, the Academy felt it had shown him enough love through “Lilies of the Field.”
Selina meets Gordon in a rare trip to the park. Left on her own to string beads for a door-to-door peddler, he rescues her from a caterpillar that’s fallen down the back of her blouse. Gordon stays to chat, offering her a carton of pineapple juice, something she’s never had before. Selina loves to be outside, away from the cramped, one room tenement she shares with her mother and “Ole Pa” (Ford). Selina and Gordon begin an easy, but unexpected friendship. Gordon is appalled the more he learns of the girl’s history and home life. She has every right to be angry and bitter, but remains sweet, sharp and eager to learn. Gordon begins to teach her how to get around on her own. He longs to see this bright, intelligent girl go to a school for the blind, where her abilities can grow.
But social bias and injustice work against them. Selina doesn’t know Gordon is black, and Gordon is reluctant to tell her and risk ending their relationship. His brother, Mark (Dixon), is thunderstruck. “What do you think you’re doing?” he demands.
“A Patch of Blue” was released two years before the landmark Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia that abolished state laws banning interracial marriage. Green recalls how an onscreen kiss between Poitier and Hartman was cut from prints delivered to America’s Deep South. Even so, “A Patch of Blue” was embraced by the public, breaking a record held by “Gone With the Wind” during its first two weeks in Atlanta.
The 1080p transfer (2.35:1 aspect ratio) from the Warner Archive Collection is sourced from a brand new remaster. It’s the best the film has looked – ever! Green was also a renowned cinematographer, winning an Oscar for his work on the 1946 “Great Expectations.” Color was available for “A Patch of Blue,” but he opted for black and white, believing the stark and shadowed imagery would complement the story.
The new print looks beautiful, cleaned of all light bursts, dirt and scratches. Images are clear and distinct, showing good detail in clothing and props, and exposing the contrast between Selina’s rundown home and Gordon’s spotless, well-appointed apartment. Facial tones and expressions appear natural, while features are fine-tuned.
Green worked closely with cinematographer Robert Burks, Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite, who worked with him on “Vertigo,” “Rear Window,” “The Birds,” “Strangers on a Train” and others. Burks won an Oscar for his work on “To Catch a Thief” starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. His skills receive an excellent showcase in the new release.
Dialogue, effects and music are delivered through a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. We often “see” the POV through Selina’s hearing. Crashing furniture and plates during a family argument; wind, rain and weather-beaten trees during a storm in the park. The effects dominate, but do not overwhelm the room. Selina becomes lost – actively trapped – in a crowd trying to make her way alone on busy streets. We see her peril, while accelerating crowd and street noise successfully builds tension. Dialogue is always clear.
Green says Jerry Goldsmith’s emotive Oscar nominated score was built around stringing the pearl-like beads. Harmonica and woodwinds build a happy moment as Selina works on her chores at home; discordant strings attack when she becomes lost. Each segment blends perfectly with its setting.
“A Patch of Blue” was unique for its time, depicting interracial relationships, child abuse and other social ills. Poitier and his brother – a doctor – have made good lives for themselves. Selena’s family struggles, trapped by its anger and bigotry as much as its poverty. And still the quest for friendship, the rewards of helping another, and the fine cast and production keep the story relevant and enjoyable.
— Kay Reynolds