Saturday, August 4, 2012

2012 Summer Under the Stars - Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier

As part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon, I’m writing my very first (of hopefully more) classic film blog posts.  For my first topic I chose to write about Sidney Poitier.  Why Poitier?  One word: passion.  I love the passion he brings to every role he's in.  His characters are so root for want them to succeed. I wanted to talk briefly about two of my favorite Poitier movies: A Raisin in the Sun and To Sir, With Love.

A Raisin in the Sun

"Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most, when he's done good and made everything easy for everybody. Oh no, no, that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and he can't believe in himself cause the world done whipped him so. When you start measuring somebody child, measure him right, measure him right. You make sure you've taken into account the hills and the valleys he's come through to get to wherever he is." - Lena Younger

If you’ve never seen this film I urge you to tune in Tuesday evening at 8pm EDT, it’s a power movie. Poitier plays a married man living in a low-rent apartment in the South Side of Chicago with his mother, sister, wife and son.  I’ve only seen this film once before but it grabbed me immediately--got its hooks in me--and I had to watch it play out.

At the outset, we learn that the family’s father has passed away and they’re about to receive an insurance company settlement for $10,000.  The first part of the movie explores how each family member has a dream about what to do with the money.  The family has a lot of unfulfilled dreams, which a little money can seemingly help.

Walter Lee Younger (Poitier) has a scheme to invest the money into a liquor store.  Lena Younger (the mother, played brilliantly by Claudia McNeil) decides to spend part of the money on a down-payment for a new home in an all-white neighborhood.  She gives the rest to Walter with instruction that $3500 is for him and $3000 is to be used for his sister’s college education.  He decides (foolishly) to give all of it to his ‘friend’ to invest in the liquor store.  What happens next is akin to Nights of Cabiria...we (or at least I) get this gut feeling that something’s going to go wrong.  And it does...Walter’s ‘friend’ disappears with all of his money, including the money meant for this sister’s education.

As luck (and prejudice) would have it, the good folks of the white neighborhood want to buy out the Younger’s home that they just purchased.  At first Walter agrees that this is the way he can recover some of his family’s money.  When Mr. Lindler (played by awesome character actor John Fiedler who’s been in seemingly everything...most remembered by me in 12 Angry Men) later arrives to get the paperwork signed for the house, Walter delivers an impassioned speech about his family and decides not to sell the house after all.

It’s a wonderful movie that explores the unfulfilled dreams of a family as they deal with the prejudices of race and economic status.

To Sir, With Love

Did you ever have a teacher that made a difference in your life?  Not just one that helped you with school-work, but one that helped you with life?  I did and I hope you did, too.  It’s a wonderful thing when a mentor helps to make you a better person.  That’s the premise behind this great film.

It’s a film about how a fill-in school teacher in a lower-class East-end London school transforms the students in his charge.  The film has a fairly desperate beginning...the teachers and students don’t seem to care about each other...there’s a tall and solid brick wall between the two groups and that’s the way they both like it.  Also in the beginning of the film, the students absolutely loath Mr. Thakeray (Poitier): he’s black, they’re mostly all white; he wants to teach them, they don’t want to learn; he’s a substitute teacher...we all know the special attention they get!  But a funny thing happens as the film progresses...he slowly wins the students over through love, respect,  and some discipline...and by the end of the film they’re proud to be his proteges.  What’s interesting to me is that love and respect is something that these kids don’t seem to have at home...maybe they assume that’s how all adults will treat them.

Even if you’ve never seen the film, if you’re ‘of a certain age’ (ahem), you’ve no doubt heard the song by the same name by 60’s British pop star Lulu.  “ do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?” is the line from the song (the song is also sung in the movie) that best sums up how these previously irascible kids now want to show their gratitude towards their teacher.  He has turned them from children to young adults...and watching this transformation is so heartwarming.


  1. Joel -

    First off, CONGRATS on your new blog! I'm thrilled that another film fan has a forum to express his passion for THE MOVIES.

    Wonderful first post too, dedicating it to Mr. Poitier. I agree on "A Raisin in the Sun," it does indeed grab you. It's riveting. I haven't seen "To Sir with Love" in a long time but another nice commentary!


    1. Thanks, Aurora...coming from you it means so much.

  2. Great posts. You've got me enthusiastic to watch the films again! I especially like the props you gave To Sir, with Love. I'm not diminishing Raisin, but it came from really fantastic source material. Sir gives such dignity to a story that could be tawdry and very Blackboard Jungle-ish.

  3. Hi Joel. Great post! It's been a while since I've seen To Sir with Love. Now I'm really anxious to see it again soon. Good message for today. In A Raisin in the Sun, it's Claudia McNeill that gets me. Ooh... how she just pulls me in.

    I'm so glad you're in the blogosphere now, too! Welcome! :)


    1. Thanks, Tonya. I feel like I'm walking around in a dark room with this blog stuff. I hope you got to see 'To Sir' last night. I had to get to bed so didn't stay up for the end of it.

    2. I know! LOL - it's fun though. :) Unfortunately, the sandman got a hold of me early the other night. I was upset that I forgot to DVR "Buck and the Preacher"! I do hope they both come back on soon. Looking forward to more of your posts!! ~Tonya

  4. Welcome to the Blogosphere, mate! Lovely writeup on two fabulous films-- greatly looking forward to more!

  5. I love both these films. I think my favorite Poitier movies are GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (with Katharine Hepburn) and TO SIR WITH LOVE.

  6. Joel--

    My apologies for being late to comment. There have been so many wonderful contributions, it's taken me a bit to make the rounds.

    I'm so happy to know the blogathon was part of the motivation for you to start this blog. I cannot wait to see what's next! ;)