Sidney PoitierAs 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 believable...you root for them...you 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
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. “...how 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.