“A man … a girl … captives in their own worlds … finding escape in each other …” Adapted from the 1961 novel Be Ready with Bells and Drums by Australian writer Elizabeth Kata and filmed in black-and-white, A Patch of Blue explores a number of social issues, including racism, child abuse and alcoholism. The film features outstanding performances from Sidney Poitier (who had won a Best Actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field two years earlier) and Elizabeth Hartman (in her film debut). And yet it was Shelley Winters who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as the overbearing, obnoxious and extremely abusive prostitute Rose-Ann D’Arcy, who accidentally blinded her five-year-old daughter, Selina, during a fight with her husband. What was the Academy smoking that year? Okay, Winters does a great job but she is such a vile, loathsome creature that her scenes are almost too painful to watch. Come to think of it, I've disliked Winters ever since she totally ruined Montgomery Clift's relationship with Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951)! Poitier portrays Gordon Ralfe, an office worker who befriends the now-teenage Selina (Hartman) in a park and gradually helps her break out of her isolation (she has rarely left the rundown apartment, has never attended school and has never even heard of Braille). The characters develop a strong connection since both of them know the pain of being outsiders. However, Rose-Ann has much more sinister plans for her daughter’s future. In his last film role, Wallace Ford (1898-1966) does an excellent job as the old drunken grandfather “Ol’ Pa.” Ford acted in dozens of Westerns and B-movies over the years and even appeared as “Phroso the Clown” in the cult classic Freaks (1932). Also look for Ivan Dixon (Hogan’s Heroes) as Ralfe’s cynical brother, Mark. Scenes of the interracial couple kissing were edited out of copies of the film that were shown in Southern movie theaters. Hartman received a Best Actress nomination but lost out to Julie Christie (Darling). Tragically, Hartman, who suffered from depression, committed suicide by jumping out the window of her fifth-floor apartment in 1987 at the age of 43.
Useless Trivia: A Patch of Blue was directed by Guy Green (1913-2005), who won an Oscar as cinematographer for David Lean’s adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic Great Expectations (1946).