A black high school senior struggles with becoming a man, and living in a middle class white neighborhood in the late 1950s U.S. In protest of the paternalistic views of the Civil War ... See full summary »
A black high school senior struggles with becoming a man, and living in a middle class white neighborhood in the late 1950s U.S. In protest of the paternalistic views of the Civil War emphasized in his history class, he storms out and gets caught smoking a cigar in the boys' room. Spence's crush on a white classmate goes nowhere because of her father's attitude toward blacks. His outspoken grandmother seems the only one who understands his angry growing pains, at the early stages of the U.S.'s Civil Rights Era. Written by
Great insight into the Black American experience circa 1959
The biggest reason I decided to watch this film when it came on Turner Classic Movies recently was because I discovered that the film starred none other than Johnny Nash. He was the pop singer best known for the early 70s hit "I Can See Clearly Now" and I was shocked to see him in the lead role in a film. Well, despite me tuning in only out of curiosity, I was happily surprised to see the 19 year-old Nash did an excellent job playing an angry young Black man who is tired of the treatment of Blacks at that time. So good a job that I am surprised he didn't have a more extensive list of film credits.
The film begins with Nash stomping out of his high school class and then being caught only moments later smoking in the bathroom. As a result of his behaviors, he is then expelled. This is interesting, as apparently times have changed. Nowadays, you'd practically have to commit a string of felonies to get expelled from most American high schools! When he goes home, his grandmother confronts him about his expulsion. It seems that he is the token Black in the school and was angry at the patronizing way that the Civil War was being mis-taught to the kids in this middle-class White neighborhood Instead of telling the teacher off or disagreeing with her or gently correcting her (like he probably should have done), he stormed out on the class.
At about this same time, some White kids come to the house wanting him to pitch in an upcoming baseball game. However, although they want him to play because he's so talented, he's NOT invited to the party afterwords because he's Black! Understandably, he's hurt and angry...though he's also flailing about aimlessly by not directing or controlling his feelings. In fact, he's so aimless that he soon goes to a local bar to get drunk.
It's obvious that Nash's character is meant to be a microcosm of Black America--a group that was on the fringes of society but was beginning to demand more. However, since this movie debuted in 1959 (at the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement), it has somehow gotten lost. Newer films such as IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT and GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER? have gotten a lot more attention over the years, but earlier and well made films like this one as well as INTRUDER IN THE DUST have been generally forgotten.
As far as the film goes, what I liked best was the language. Unlike most portrayals of Black and White Americans of the era, the language here seemed raw and real. There was a bit of cursing and phrases such as "I'll snatch you bald-headed" that added to the realism. Yet, at the same time, it didn't seem gratuitous--more like how people really talked when they weren't on film.
Overall, it's a remarkable film with great insight into the heart of Black America. The only complaint, and it's a very minor one, is that occasionally the film is a tad overly dramatic. It also places, perhaps, too much emphasis on the main character's sex drive. While this IS worth investigating in films, here it tends to blur the overall message. But considering that the film was made with a small budget, relatively inexperienced actors and took big risks, it's a very powerful film, nevertheless.
By the way, special recognition should go to Estelle Hemsley as the Grandmother. Her role and acting were pivotal and very important to the success of this film, though apart from her the acting was still very good throughout.
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