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|Index||24 reviews in total|
this is one of the most underappreciated films of all times. it is a superbly acted and directed film with a very intelligent and well crafted screenplay. the "twist" is revealed just at the right moment and is not played for any exploitative reason but still resonates throughout the course of the film. i have the video of this film, which is not listed anywhere and just got the poster, that is how much i love this film. if you are looking for a stupid bang bang movie don't bother, if you're looking for a goofy feel good movie, go elsewhere, but if you appreciate well-crafted film making this is your movie.
I saw this movie (for the first time) when cable TV was new to Birmingham, Alabama. It was aired on a channel out of Chicago. Throughout the years, I have tried unsuccessfully to find a copy. Then...about three months ago, I found a collector with a copy in mint-condition. It has been well worth the money I spent. I watch it at least once a week. The cast worked very well together and the soundtrack is still hypnotic. The subject matter is addressed with a level of cinematic respect that makes the viewer sit up and take notice: no cursing and no lewd scenes...just raw and compelling acting. Like a bottle of old wine, Sapphire gets better and better as it ages. I'm hoping that no one will insult those of us who truly love this film by screening a cheesy re-make. That would be an insulting.
When a young woman's body is discovered on London's Hampstead Heath,
the ensuing investigation quickly focuses on racial bigotry and hatred
in 1950s Britain, exposing the prejudice amongst those under
investigation AND those investigating.
Like so many other films from the 1940s and 1950s, Sapphire is yet another piece of groundbreaking British cinema now long forgotten. A little clunky and overly reliant on stereotyping by today's standards, but still a fascinating exploration of the fears and struggles inherent in a newly mixed-race society. Dearden has brought together an interesting cast here, cleverly giving matinée idol Craig a fairly unsympathetic role as a racist police officer, and being superbly served by Mitchell - her final scene is at once both compelling and distressing. Too many British cinema actors of the 40's and 50's have now been forgotten, and Mitchell is a prime example of why individual and collective reappraisals and retrospectives are long overdue.
Interesting companion piece to 1961's Flame In The Streets, then, and definitely worth catching if you can.
The real problem with television broadcasting is that the better movies of the last century are held from the viewers. SAPPHIRE could be shown as a double bill with AN INSPECTOR CALLS. There are not enough movie buffs to push some of these classics so that they can be shown to today's audiences ..which would really appreciate them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
British cinema in the 50s saw an explosion of realistic "kitchen sink"
dramas that tried to explore the problems the post war generation
faced. "Cosh Boy" (1952) dealt with kids running wild, "Violent
Playground" (1957) with juvenile delinquency and the problems
associated with high rise housing estates. Even though Janet Green's
list of screenplay credits are short, each of them can take their place
among the best British films of the 50s and 60s (except "Midnight
Lace"). They usually featured strong story lines, often about
minorities ("Life for Ruth", also with Michael Craig dealt with
Jehovah's Witnesses, "Victim" was about homosexuality).
"Sapphire" must have caused a sensation when it was first released. It deals with racism in all forms, white against black, black against black (one of Sapphire's former boyfriends says "My father would never allow me to marry Sapphire - she is only half black!!!").
The film begins with the startling discovery of the body of a young arts student. When her brother comes down to identify the body, Sup. Hazard (Nigel Patrick) realises that Sapphire is black!!! From then on Hazard encounters racism at every turning. His partner (Michael Craig) says "these spades should be sent home to their own country". The landlady, is very protective of Sapphire but when she learns of the girl's heritage she is horrified. Sapphire's friend then gives the landlady a piece of her mind but when the landlady retorts with "When you introduced Sapphire to your parents - did you tell them she was coloured" there is silence. "Well I am not the only one who is racist" - that is extremely true in this film.
Sapphire is pregnant (something else that would have shocked 50s audiences) and engaged to David (Paul Massie) whose family is a caulderon of racial tension. The mother is nice, the father (Bernard Miles) is an racist and the daughter, as a constable says "she's her father all over again". David is introverted and under the father's thumb. Yvonne Mitchell is riveting as Mildred, whose bottled up racism explodes in a scene that catches everyone by surprise (maybe not Sup. Hazard). She is married to a merchant seaman and has twin daughters, who she is very ambitious for. She is very jealous of the love she perceives Sapphire and David have for each other. Unfortunately, Sapphire is "passing for white" so the happiness is not going to last.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A very brave movie shot barely a year after the quite shocking
interracial violence in Notting Hill,"Sapphire" gives a true picture of
the prejudices and ignorance on both sides of the racial divide. The
casual racism of both communities may be horrific to 21st century
audiences.The very fact that the cinema was allowed to portray such
attitudes graphically illustrates how much freedom was given to art in
the so - called "repressed" 1950s,in contrast to how proscribed it has
become in this the first decade of these "enlightened" times. As
usual,the police - merely of course a microcosm of society - get some
stick for reflecting the views of the community they come from.
Sapphire is a pale - skinned West Indian girl "Passing for white",or a
"Lilyskin" as she is referred to in this film. Nowadays the term
"Coconut" might be used in an equally abusive sense.The film begins
with the the discovery of her body.The police are convinced that the
solution to her murder lies within the black community,and,once this
idea has taken root,are unable to see the case in any other
light,adopting a kind of tunnel vision where they tailor the facts to
fit their theories, a situation that prevails in many investigations to
this day and has - in the past - led to several miscarriages of
justice.Fortunately they do eventually switch tack and find the
murderer amongst Sapphire's white fiancé's family.
Mr M.Craig proved in this and the later "Life for Ruth",that he was a lot more than a lightweight second - string.He keeps a lid on his more overt racism under the more sophisticated eye of his superior(the versatile Mr N.Patrick) who moves carefully between the outraged blacks and the outraged whites,well aware of the tightrope he is walking. At the core of the film is the perceived suspicion of the whites at the myth of Black Sexuality.Hands may now be raised in horror that such stereotypical beliefs but it would be idle to deny their existence. Many years ago when I was in the Met I had ,as a partner,a very sharp and beautiful black woman.One night - one of many spent de - stressing in an East London pub - I,rather the worst I fear,for drink,pushed a fifth or sixth vodka in front of her and ventured,"Well Marlene,what do you think about The Myth of Black Sexuality?"She fixed me with a sardonic eye and said straight - faced,"What myth?". So it would appear to be a matter of embarrassment to some and pride to others . It certainly caused the unfortunate Sapphire to be murdered,and nearly half a century later,is still the cause of discomfort and suspicion between the races.The only difference in that respect between now and 1959 is that debate on the matter is not encouraged.
This is one of the most shocking films ever made about the true depths of colour prejudice in Britain in the 1950s, and the violent hatreds of black people harboured at that time by the white British working classes, especially in London. The film is well-scripted, and boldly directed by Basil Dearden, and it shows without flinching the true state of feeling as it was in those days (with some strong anti-white prejudice by blacks thrown in, to demonstrate that things are never only one way). What is so utterly horrifying about watching all of this now is, that it really was all true then. It is inevitable that some of the characters both white and black should resemble stereotypes, perhaps for the reason that at that time, people genuinely were stereotypes. The story concerns a police investigation of a murder of a young girl who was a student at the Royal Academy of Music (half way through the film a policeman calls it the Royal College of Music; Londoners are always confusing the two separate institutions in that way, so perhaps this script flaw merely reflects real life). Her body is found on Hampstead Heath in London, and there are no clues apart from the initial 'S' (her name is eventually discovered to be Sapphire). As a crime investigation thriller, the film is solid and extremely well done. A spectacular cameo performance is given by the black actor Robert Adams as 'Horace Big Cigar', not long before he died. The acting is all reliable and convincing. Dearden is especially good at not allowing any of the women and children to scream when discovering a body or having a horrible experience: his technique was extremely subtle, and they instead stifle screams, a scream begins to form, and then they put their own hands over their mouths in horror. When identifying a corpse, the actor behaves as one would naturally do, with numb paralysed shock, remaining silent and staring. All the ridiculous Hollywood histrionics and stock reactions of approved hysteria and screaming females are eliminated from this very British film, in which there is no place for hysteria except with one black character who panics for story reasons. Sociologists should really see this film. However, it is so incendiary that I cannot see it ever being released again or even being shown on television, at least not in Britain. In fact, some of the comments in the film may even have become 'illegal' under the harsh new race relations laws, even in a fictional context! Anyone who thinks race problems have gone away does not know human nature. Sensitivity to small differences, such as skin colour, is so firmly rooted in animal behaviour (the isolation by the herd of the black sheep, the driving away of albino animals from the pack), that race hatreds are inescapable, and can only be suppressed, never eradicated. Seeing this film reminds one of this depressing aspect of life by a blatant portrayal of it which is almost too painful to watch.
I was amazed by the shocking brutality of the racism in this film. In America, we are rarely presented with such casual racism; in films of the 50s, race is practically never dealt with in films, as Todd Haynes "remake" of Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows tries to make up for. And current films about the 50s present such two dimensional characters that it is easy to tell the racist villains from the open-minded heroes. In Sapphire, filmed in Britain in the 1950s, one of the most interesting characters is Michael Craig's detective, supposedly our hero, but constantly making racist remarks. His comments are always countered by the more reasonable older inspector, but this allows his gradual transformation throughout the film. Although some of the film is a bit heavy-handed, ultimately the message is sadly still relevant. 4 out of 5.
I first saw the movie Sapphire on the Million Dollar Movie one night and I fell in love with it. I"m one for a good mystery movie and this is the one. From start to finish and when the movie did end I wanted more. The movie's ending will surprise you. The cast was excellent and actors Nigel Patrick Earl Cameron and Yvonne Mitchell were just great. I finally purchased this movie from one of those hard to find videos company on VHS. This movie needs to be released on DVD!!!! The racism in Sapphire was very brutal and honest. Here you had the tragic mulatto who is murdered I think of Imitation of Life where Susan Kohner's Sarah Jane is passing for white to the point she gets beaten up by her secret white lover, she was lucky!!!!!!!
So far during this year's Black History Month, I've been reviewing American films. What I'm commenting on now took place and was filmed in Britain. In this one, a Sapphire Robbins (Yvonne Buckingham) is found dead at Hampstead Heath. Superintendent Robert Hazard (Nigel Patrick) and partner Inspector Phil Learoyd (Michael Craig) investigate who done it. Her boyfriend David Harris (Paul Massie) and brother, a Dr. Robbins (Earl Cameron) are also interested though the former has his own secrets to hide along with his sister Mildred (Yvonne Mitchell) and possibly their parents (Bernard Miles and Olga Lindo). By the way, since the doctor has dark skin and his late sister is light, there's also a racial aspect involved...When I first watched this on American Movie Classics back in the mid '80s (by the way, this was the first I actually watched on that channel), it was intriguing enough for me that I would have loved to have seen it again much sooner than just now on YouTube if I had the chance. Now that I indeed have, it's even more compelling as both a mystery and pretty intense drama on the social tensions that I'm sure were very prevalent during that time in England. Especially considering the way characters of both races reveal their prejudices in both subtle and blatant ways. And besides Cameron, other people of color worth noting that appeared here include Gordon Heath as Paul Slade, Harry Gaird as Johnnie Fiddle (who is identified among other Johnnys at a bar), Orlando Martins as a barman, and Robert Adams as Horace Big Cigar. Really, this was a fine British drama that greatly tackled the way prejudices of most kinds were displayed there. P.S. I didn't know about the stereotype of cops having big feet there. Sure beats the one about donuts here!
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