“A Patch Of Blue” won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress Shelly Winters, and Most Promising Newcomer Golden Globe Award for Elizabeth Hartman
"A Patch Of Blue" is the little film that could, a movie that was reluctantly made by MGM, and according to writer/director Guy Green, given little publicity as the studio was pooling resources to get Oscar nominations for "Doctor Zhivago." Through word of mouth by slowly opening the film in key markets, "Patch" received enough attention by critics and peers - winning an Oscar in the end - and the film remains a moving, near-tearful drama of a young girl (Selina) trapped in a fractured family. Victimized by physical and mental abuse, Selina's immutable dignity is conveyed by the gifted Elizabeth Hartman - a newcomer at the time, with only some modest theatre credits to her name.
Green evolved into a director of note after years as a respected cinematographer, shooting four of David Lean's early British films - such as "The Way Ahead," "Great Expectations" and "Oliver Twist" - and eventually moving into the director's chair when the timing was right. After the creative success from directing "The Angry Silence" (labor strife) and "The Mark" (a convicted child molester's re-entry into society), Green's wife brought to his attention Elizabeth Kata's novel "Be Ready With Bells And Drums," and with the support of veteran producer Pandro S. Berman, wrote and directed an extraordinarily sensitive drama.
Green's commentary, while occasionally bracketed by noticeable pauses, nevertheless cover's the film's complete production history, with detailed nods to the fine cast and crew. The perks of working with method actress Shelley Winters (who deservedly won an Oscar for her terrifying portrayal of Selina's monstrous mother) and star Sidney Poitier (who took a serious pay cut because he believed in the story) are covered, plus first-timer Hartman, who ultimately made eight films - her last being the voice of Mrs. Brisby in "The Secret of NIMH" - before allegedly committing suicide in 1987.
The best parts of the commentary concern adapting the novel to the screen, and Green points out key changes and additions - including modifying the novel's original ending - which author Kata approved. Green also describes his own route in becoming a director, and explains his direction choices for several of the film's intimate emotional scenes.
Warner Bros' DVD offers a pristine transfer of the film's brilliant black and white cinematography - shot by Alfred Hitchcock's longtime alumnus Robert Burks - and Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated score (still available on CD) has appropriate resonance during the film's key montages.
MGM's original trailer slaps on a heavily melodramatic narration, and misrepresents the film's social points through the use of 'heartwarming' music. The romantic subplot - expertly handled with great sensitivity by the filmmakers - comes off as generic, and the trailer is an example of the film's own expert depiction of changing values in American society, dumbed down by the marketing department's archaic exploitation tools.
An excellent still gallery (behind the scenes, publicity, archival reviews, and Oscar nominations with appropriate captions) is included, and a brief profile of Sidney Poitier's career fills out the disc.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan