A RAISIN IN THE SUN, 1961
Starring: Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, Louis Gossett Jr., John Fiedler, Ivan Dixon
Walter Lee Younger is a young man struggling with his station in life. Sharing a tiny apartment with his wife, son, sister and mother, he seems like an imprisoned man. Until, that is, the family gets an unexpected financial windfall...
Over the course of cinema, there have many excellent actors to grace the silver screen. Whether this is for their dashing heroism or emotionally-flared scenes which demonstrate an actor/actress in their element many of cinema’s stars have been regarded with such esteem that they are looked up to and revered. However, through abhorrent racism evident in Hollywood at the time of this movie’s release, there were not many African-American roles around and what was present needed to be grappled firmly with both hands so that this rare opportunity could be seized upon and, in this movie, that was certainly the case for all involved.
Struggling with his inability to provide for his family, Walter Lee Younger (Poitier) tries his best to provide for his wife and children but fails miserably. Whether this is thanks to not being given the opportunity due to the colour of his skin or their lowly apartment which should definitely not be used for living in at all, Walter’s wife Lena (McNeil) also tries her best to raise as much of a meagre wage as possible. Walter even subjects his small earnings to an investment gamble which is due to pay dividends but whether this will pay off and remove his money worries is down to the luck of the Gods; will matters ever improve for Walter and his family?
Based on Lorraine Hansberry’s play, she also wrote the screenplay and what a welcoming sight this is. When movies are based on a prior source, the director often makes the mistake of casting someone completely different to write the script. But here, the intense nature of the scenarios which take place are created right in front of your very eyes as the action takes place in this one apartment. To utilise this space is the mark of a fine director. Known for directing mainly television projects and features such as this as and also “Cocoon: The Return”, Petrie must surely be ranked along with the pantheon of directors for this movie itself.
The protagonist of the film is Poitier and shows a man in his prime. It is remarkable to read that when he arrived in America from his native Cat Island, he couldn’t read or write and had no knowledge of how to act. However, the 1960’s were proven to be a very popular time for his career and here it shows a career blossoming. As the 1960’s progressed, Poitier starred in such remarkable films as “In the Heat of the Night” and “To Sir, with Love” but it is with this film that we see a man fighting for his place in society and does everything in his power to try and do this.
Poitier isn’t the only renowned actor present in the movie but also his co-star Claudia McNeil. Playing the downtrodden wife role, her emotions show a woman in commotion with herself as she wants to do the best that she can for her family but has a husband which fails in everything that he tries. Any money they do have is wasted on Walter’s investments which bring in no returned capital. For many African-Americans at the time of this films’ release and even to this day, it must seem remarkable to see this character being portrayed with such gusto and admiration.
At the time of its release, the film earned a less-than impressive $1.5 million at the box office but was nominated for a number of awards which included BAFTA’s and prestigious recommendations including honours at The Cannes Film Festival. Although not recognised by the Academy, this is a travesty in itself as leading European figures found it enthralling but not many leading American figures appreciated this movie’s significance.
Surprisingly, a remake of this movie was released in 2008. Although I have not seen it, by viewing this version (which starred the likes of Sean Coombs and Audra McDonald playing the roles previously portrayed by Poitier and McNeil) would be interesting in particular to see if they could improve on this original version. As it stands, this 1960’s movie is by all means a classic and long may it be regarded as so.
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