These days, A Patch of Blue is dismissed by some as being corny and predictable. Perhaps, but I, a longtime fan of star Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field) have always enjoyed the film. Released in 1965, it’s a story of a deep friendship that transcends race and class. The film, written and directed by former British cinematographer Guy Green (Once Is Not Enough) has a fairly simple, but touching, plot. Blind, Selina D’Arcy (Elizabeth Hartman, The Group) lives a rather lonely life. Her mother Rose-Ann (Shelley Winters, Harper) is content to keep her locked up and abused in their dingy apartment. Selina’s only real joy is when her alcoholic grandfather Ole Pa (Wallace Ford) agrees to take her to a nearby park so she can do her job, stringing beads, under a tree.
Poitier plays a man named Gordon Ralfe, who, while walking through the park one day, comes across a young, white woman sitting under a tree. Intrigued by her, a friendship quickly develops. Initially, Gordon is thrilled at the idea of making friends with a non-black person for whom his race isn’t a major issue, but of course, it’s never that simple. He learns just how difficult Selina’s life has been. She was accidentally blinded at age five, when her mother threw chemicals on her while attempting to hit her father. Kept out of school, Selina is treated as little more than a servant and was once raped by one of her mother’s “boyfriends.” Gordon is quiet, but his face reveals shock and anger. The more time Gordon spends with her, the more determined he is to teach her to survive in a world she can’t see.
Selina has no idea Gordon is African American. She doesn’t understand the concept of racism. She understands that Gordon has shown nothing but kindness toward her. It’s no surprise when the two begin to fall in love. However, Gordon is aware of the disapproving the two receive when seen together. If that wasn’t enough, his brother (Ivan Dixon) expresses concern about the ramifications of the relationship.
Adapted by Guy Green from the 1961 novel “Be Ready With Bells and Drums” by Elizabeth Kata, he managed to craft an emotional human drama that never becomes too sappy. While there are melodramatic moments, they’re balance with realism. Selina lives in squalor, her mother slaps her with uncomfortable ease. Green pushed production standards at the time by having Selina and Gordon share a kiss. By today’s standards it might be regarded as nothing more than a peck on the lips, but in 1965, this was controversial stuff. That scene was cut from some prints at the time, particularly those issued on the southern United States.
Hot off his Best Actor Oscar win for Lilies of the Field, Sidney Poitier is the star. He gives a thoughtful, measured performance. In truth though, it’s Elizabeth Hartman who truly makes A Patch of Blue special. A delicate looking young woman, with an expressive personality, Elizabeth Hartman is a revelation. An unknown, she beat out 150 other young actresses for the role of Selina, including a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Rightly, she received several accolades for her portrayal of the blind girl. She is convincing on that score; she also radiates an innocence that underscores how unprepared Selina is for the real world. Shelley Winters won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Rose-Ann. Mean to the core, Rose-Ann is that rare character who really gets under my skin (like a bad rash) every time I watch A Patch of Blue.
More than fifty years after its initial release, much of A Patch of Blue doesn’t seem outdated. Guy Green’s message of racial tolerance still rings true. Really, Gordon is just a man living his life, who meets a girl in need and tries to help. Many of us can relate to that. When the two develop a close bond, well, that’s relatable too!
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Warner Archive has delivered another excellent 1080p transfer. Boasting a “new” remaster, this transfer allows Robert Burks’ realistic Panavision cinematography to shine. Prior to directing, Guy Green had been an accomplished cinematographer, winning an Oscar in 1946 for his work on Great Expectations. Though color was available, he shot A Patch of Blue in black and white, believing the stark imagery would complement the story. Green was right. His efforts have never looked better than they do on this Blu-ray release. The image is clear and distinct throughout, cleaned of any debris, scratches, etc. The level of detail is strong, showing the worn look of Selina’s shirts and dresses, against Gordon’s crisp, white oxford shirts and ties. Faces looks natural and the greyscale contrast is well balanced. Fans should be very pleased with this transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack serves the film well. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout. Sound effects, such as crashing plates, slamming doors, wind and rain, come through with necessary effectiveness, but never in the way of the dialogue. Jerry Goldsmith’s evocative score sets the mood for certain scenes, adding to the overall effectiveness of the track.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Guy Green: Ported over from an earlier DVD release, Guy Green provides some interesting backstory on the making of the film. While he does tend to pause for long periods, his reminisces about the casting processing and working with Sidney Poitier are fascinating.
- NEW! A Cinderella Named Elizabeth: Given the fact that Elizabeth Hartman went on to such a troubled life, committing suicide in 1987 after only appearing in eight films, this is a wonderful piece to have. Filmed by the studio, the promising new actress is seen wandering around the MGM backlot, this was her big chance! (I have a soft spot for these types of little films studios used to do.)
A Patch of Blue (1965)
Movie title: A Patch of Blue
Director(s): Guy Green
Actor(s): Sidney Poitier, Shelley Winters, Elizabeth Hartman , Wallace Ford , Ivan Dixon , Elisabeth Fraser
Genre: Drama, Romance