Saturday, February 25, 2012

Film Review: Lilies of the Field (1963)

The original film poster.
Photo Courtesy of
TCMDb: An itinerant handyman in the Southwest gets a new outlook on life when he helps a group of German nuns build a chapel.

     "I'm gonna' build be a chapel," Homer Smith says. It is that one line which explains the whole premise of Lilies of the Field, the award-winning film that won Poitier his Oscar for Best Actor--making him the first black man to win the award (Hattie McDaniel had won in 1939 as Best Supporting Actress, making her the first black woman to win the coveted Oscar).
     No matter what one's religion is, or absense thereof, everybody that loves classic films--or even in the broader sense, loves films in general, should watch this film. It is not to upset, but rather to give hope and faith--in whatever faith that you believe in.
     I, myself, do not know what to say about this film. While I believe in God, in Heaven, in the Devil, and in Hell, I do not believe that any one religion triumps over all others. Though this film's premise is how a black handyman builds a chapel for German nuns, I didn't feel as thought I was being overloaded with religion. Instead, I felt as though I was getting a booster shot in perseverence, strength, acceptance, and love.
     As mentioned before, this is the film that won Poitier his Oscar for Best Actor . . . he deserved it. He owns this role. There is no other man that could've done it as well as Sidney Poiter did it. If one had, it wouldn't be the same. It's not that it would be bad, it's not that it would be better, it would just be different.
     Lilies of the Field is based off the novel of the same name by the author William E. Barrett. The film was shot in just two weeks in Arizona. There was so little faith (no pun intended . . . I think) in the film that director Ralph Nelson had to put his house up for collateral and Poitier gave up his usual salary, agreeing to do the film for a much smaller salary and a percentage of the profits (TCM). We know how both their efforts to get this film made paid off.
     I could go on about this film, but I don't really think words could describe how much an essential this is for everyone to watch, especially my words. All I can say is that I give this film 4/4 stars with my highest recommendation.
     Here's a scene of Poitier trying to teach the nuns a hymn (which I love). Sidney really gets into it, and I think it's funny and lovely at the same time:

Did you know that this isn't Sidney singing, but
rather Jester Hairston who also wrote the song?
Oh, and the nuns? They don't actually sing that bad.
They were thought to be too good, and were told to
sing horribly. The scene was dubbed over and after
the voices were flattened in editing (TCM).

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