A PATCH OF BLUE —-between his groundbreaking Best Actor Oscar win for 1963s Lilies Of The Field and a career-topping 1967 trifecta (In The Heat Of The Night, To Sir With Love and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner ), Sidney Poitier appeared in six other films, of which the most critically and financially successful was this sensitive drama. It unaccountably faded from the radar after its run, until recent revival on disc.
Coming at the end of 1965, the Guy Green directed piece, efficiently made for $800,000, grossed more than $13,500,000 (#14 for the year), drew five Oscar nods, winning one (Shelley Winters for Best Supporting Actress) and naturally managed to stew up some controversy because of its inter-racial romance and a dreaded ‘kiss’ between the star and Elizabeth Hartman.
Hartman, 21 in her debut, plays a blind girl Poitier befriends in a park. He not only discovers that she lives in poverty with her blowzy, abusive prostitute mother (Winters) and drunken grandfather, but gradually comes to care for her romantically. The kindly, life-naive, prejudice-free girl responds to the decent treatment and attention. “It’s wonderful to have a friend.” Family members on both sides are displeased.
Wallace Ford, excellent in his last role, plays the soused grandfather; he passed away a few months after the movie came out. Ivan Dixon portrays Sidney’s skeptical brother: he’d just scored an underground sleeper with Nothing But A Man, and was about to start a 5-year run on Hogan’s Heroes. Winters didn’t enjoy her part, but she digs into it with sick fury. Poitier is good as always, but the film really belongs to Hartman, fragile and winning, earning a deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Her career took off accordingly, but her ability with etching troubled characters on screen was sadly not matched in her own life; she committed suicide in 1987, only 43. Catch her in this, her shining triumph.
With Elizabeth Fraser, John Qualen and Renata Valli. Also nominated for Cinematography, Art Direction and Music Score (Jerry Goldsmith). 121 minutes.