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An African-American prison psychiatrist (Sidney Poitier) finds the boundaries of his professionalism sorely tested when he must counsel a disturbed inmate (Bobby Darin) with bigoted Nazi tendencies. Written by
I don't know why this film is virtually unknown. For its time it must have been very controversial and even today it still packs a wallop of a punch. But I am as equally impressed by the style of this film as I am with the performances and the screenplay. Fans of THE TWILIGHT ZONE will feel right at home with the stark B&W stylization of the dream sequences and the childhood flashbacks. Yet like any great film, it doesn't let its style overwhelm the viewer. It simply acts as a springboard from which it can stun the viewer with the emotional impact of the story. It takes a lot to shock me, yet the flashbacks of the patient's childhood (especially one terrifying scene in a meat hanger that reminded me of the father-son relationship in PEEPING TOM) chilled me with its honest portrayal of childhood terror and helplessness. The other aspect of this film that intrigued me was the whole analytical forum of intellectual cat-and-mouse between patient and doctor. Realistically, an adult black man in the 1940s would have built up a shield to fend off the kinds of brutal statements made by his patient. But the patient's high intelligence throws Poitier off guard. He makes Poitier confront the injustices and indignities present in the country that he is so vigorously defending, thus he makes him confront his own anger and contempt. He makes Poitier an ally in anger, and that would throw anyone off balance. I also want to congratulate the film for its honest portrayals of terror and humiliation. An abusive game of tic-tac-toe in the hands of another director and actor would have come off as silly, but here it is startling and chilling. I don't know why Bobby Darin didn't continue his career with more dramatic performances like this but I'm grateful that this one is out there on video. It's one of the best performances that I've seen by an actor in anything!
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