A Patch of Blue Reviews
Such a bond is portrayed in A Patch of Blue, a wonderfully meaningful romantic film that is as sad as it is lovable. Infatuated with its characters, so much so that it's unafraid to show them at their best and worst, the film follows Selina D'Arcey (Elizabeth Hartman), a young blind girl living with her prostitute mother Rose-Ann (Shelley Winters) and her alcoholic grandfather Pa (Wallace Ford) in a cramped urban apartment. Her job is to string beads together in order to contribute to her family's meager income, which she does when she's not doing her chores.
Selina's life is confined to the physical abuse (which lead to her being blind after a fight with her mother and grandfather turned brutal) and verbal torment, rarely leaving the apartment unless she begs a local man to take her to the park, where she can enjoy fresh air and sunshine. She winds up striking an agreement with Pa to allow her to spend her days in the park if she can string many beads together. One day while sitting in the park, she meets Gordon Ralf (Sidney Poitier), a black office worker who Selina claims "sounds like the radio." Selina takes a liking to Gordon's soft-spoken and calm nature, as he simply sits and talks to her, and the two wind up spending days on end drinking pineapple juice with Gordon acclimating her to the bustle of the city streets.
An utterly adorable scene comes when Gordon takes Selina shopping and has her ride on the front of his shopping cart, racing her down aisles of soup, detergent, and ice cream, picking out her favorites and reading her the labels, essentially giving her the grand tour of a supermarket. These are the wholesome and endearing scenes in a film that doesn't feel the need to incessantly win its audience over by harping on the love these two characters obviously feel for one another, nor does it need to embellish mawkishness with empty orchestration playing over passionate lovemaking.
Obviously, race is a large element in A Patch of Blue, but it's actually amazing how director Guy Green and cinematographer Robert Burks cleverly downplay that narrative element. Being the film is shot in black and white, and being that color film was widely available, this was undoubtedly a conscious decision, Burks does a nice job of not lingering on Gordon's blackness and Green, who also serves as the film's writer, does a nice job of constantly emphasizing that these two individuals come from widely different backgrounds. Even given the time this film was made, 1965, where America was deeply invested in furthering the civil rights movement, this film never feels the need to play on the subversion of its story, and simply regards this as a love story between two people.
Now, to state the obvious once more, this is because of Selina's blindness. This story would be very different if Selina could see, as her mother and grandfather's conservative view of black people would've made her simply turn the other cheek had she actually seen Gordon in the park that day. For that matter, if she could see, Gordon wouldn't have ever needed to stop and see her in the first place; she would've been keeping to herself, or maybe even have sneered at him, leading Gordon to internalize his notions of tolerance once again.
Regardless, Green handles this potentially challenging and divisive film like it's no challenge at all. The screenplay is gifted with such talent on both the leading and supporting ends, with Hartman carrying much of the film's weight on her shoulders as she creates a believable character, and Poitier being constantly likable and amiable in his presence in Selina's life and as a soul with a great deal on his mind, as well. For that matter, the sassy and mean-spirited Hartman and the utterly incorrigible Ford give the most contemptible performances that I've seen from this era, and transcend the conventional ideas of supporting roles based on how much they can infuriate the viewer.
A Patch of Blue is a wonderful romance film; I'd even go as far as to say that it's better than Poitier's most renowned film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. It's deeper, more predicated on honest emotion, and effectively handles race because it doesn't make it the core of the film in a discernibly obvious way. It's just present enough to make you think, but just subtle enough to make you forget, and therein lies the delicate beauty of such a romantic and earnest film.
Starring: Elizabeth Hartman, Sidney Poitier, Shelley Winters, and Wallace Ford. Directed by: Guy Green.
Great, incredibly moving story. A story of neglect and caring, and how friendship spans divides of race and ability.
Incredibly suffocating at times, as you feel for Selina's (the blind girl's) plight, how incredibly abusive and neglectful her mother and grandfather are, and how they have left her disadvantaged. This pressure us palpably relieved every time she is with Gordon. The difference is so stark it is beautiful and moving.
There are also touches of commentary on racial issues but these are mostly left as a secondary plot. Thankfully so. While the commentary was justified and relevant, making more of it would have detracted from the main story.
Sidney Poitier gives his usual solid, polished performance in the lead role. The stand-out performance, however, is Elizabeth Hartman as Selina. So convincing I thought she was actually blind (she isn't). Well-deserved her Best Actress Oscar nomination and unlucky not to win the award.
Shelley Winters got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Rose-Ann, the evil mother. A good performance from her, playing parental neglect personified.