Pressure Point (1962)
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The film is most impressive for its refusal to pander to an audience whose enjoyment might be enhanced if all the conflicts between the protagonists were resolved at the conclusion, but "Pressure Point" does not compromise its own integrity by pretending to provide easy answers to the questions it raises. Doctor and patient do not reach an understanding-- they do not embrace each other at the end, nor does the film suggest that society has benefitted from the encounter between two such disparate souls. Life simply goes on, and so do its troubles. "Pressure Point" makes its point subtly without a lot of sanctimonious preaching, and is more effective as a result.
The two stars are well matched with Poitier bringing his usual humanity and quiet pride to a role that does not place as much emphasis on his skin color as one would expect in a 1962 production. Darin is simply superb as Poitier's patient, and one can't help but admire the popular crooner for having had the courage to inhabit such an unappealing character at a time when he was still one of pop music's most prominent "teen idols" (and husband of America's sweetheart, Sandra Dee). The cinematography, music, and direction (by Hubert Cornfield) match the performances perfectly.
"Pressure Point" is a powerful exploration into the circumstances that bring about race prejudice. I don't want to give away any of the rich turns and curves of this deep and exciting story that is filled with twist and turns. Mr. Poitier plays as a prison psychiatrist who is assigned to treat Bobby Darin who plays a mentally disturbed racist. These two bring vivid and truthful life to their disparate characters.
This film is compelling and sometimes hard to watch even today, but it is worth your time to check it out. Writer/Director Hubert Cornfield does a great job in telling this story and allowing these two actors and the rest of the cast to do work as a great ensemble.
A word about Bobby Darin. He was an excellent actor, very underrated and quite capable of working in comedy and drama. He accomplishes the very, very difficult act of allowing the audience to feel sympathy for an awful human being, a true lost soul, full of pain to the point of almost extinguishing his own humanity. Quite an accomplishment for the teen idol and singer. He had a life-long dream of eclipsing his idol Frank Sinatra as both a singer and actor. It would be splitting hairs to debate that, but no doubt the kid from Brooklyn gave "Old Blue Eyes" a run for his money. Too bad we lost him so soon.
I've heard "Mack the Knife" and other snappy songs by him, but I only recently realized that he was an actor as well. I'll admit that this was not a rented movie or something I sought out, just one that I caught from the classic channel, but it was from beginning to end, no commercials or cuts and I cannot express how much admiration I have for Bobby Darin. He came from a weird life (a life only Jack Nicholson could relate to) and add to that a disease that shortened it, but Bobby Darin made his time around one to be remembered. This man's performance in 'Pressure Point' stunned me.
Darin plays a man who's childhood was not one to be envious of. This man's life became even less envious, because the story takes place inside a prison where he is a convict. Sidney Poitier plays the prisons psychiatrist and Darin is sent to him because he cannot sleep due to anxiety. Poitier's character has a hard time with Darin's due to the fact that he is extremely racist (a Nazi even) and is continually treating Poitier as though he understands how he feels is wrong but doesn't care (that is the attitude that I got from it). That he knows everything he feels is based on a lie but he simply does not care...it allows him to be violent and hateful and that is why he does what he does. It's pretty scary and even though sometime you think, "goodness, I hate that sometimes what Darin's character is saying makes a little sense, what in the world is Poitier going to say to that?", that's when the doctor sets him straight.
I am a pretty emotional person and this movie really knows how to pull at them, even for an older movie, it has its 'I can't believe he said that' moments, but it was very impressive for Bobby and Sidney to do a movie with such a point, when others at the time were doing such cheesy things.
Bobby Darin plays the charismatic young man who is imprisoned during WWII for Nazi activities in the U.S. Poitier is riveting as the doctor who treats him for insomnia, but discovers pathologies many times more horrifying. If you're looking to see this timeless conflict wrapped up neatly at the end or overinflated with empty gimickry, be warned. It doesn't happen. Thank goodness. Instead we see a very real ending that explains why events like the World Trade Center tragedy can still happen today.
A lot of great films; Prince of Tides, Silence of the Lambs, The Cell and many others owe their existence to such brilliant antecedents.
Darrin, however, has no interest in having his head shrunk. It's just that he can't sleep and wants some pills to help him out. No dice, though. Poitier elicits from Darrin the personal history of a "psychopath," raised by a sadistic father and a clinging, seductive mother.
These scenes are shown in flashbacks in which Darrin is played by another actor, a boy of about ten or eleven. (Man, is that kid ugly.) The child soon sees that the only road to satisfaction and self esteem lies in having the kind of power that derives from a charismatic leader. The leader that Darrin chooses is you-know-who. The power is exercised over minorities like Jews and Negroes.
It doesn't end happily. Darrin is released over Poitier's objections and later gets into terminal trouble.
Robert Lindner was a psychiatrist who wrote the best-selling "The Fifty-Minute Hour" about a dozen or so of his cases, and this story is based on one of them. Lindner's approach was typical of the times. A patient's problems were rooted in childhood experiences and exacerbated by adult experiences. The drive for power was only compensating for internal feelings of weakness, the subconscious dread had to be brought to light, and so forth and so on. I won't criticize this psychoanalytic approach but it's pretty much discredited today.
Bobby Darrin does a decent job as the patient. He's far from stereotypically stupid, a bright guy in fact, if uneducated. He'd been a psychiatric patient before, in "Captain Newman, M.D.", and gave a shattering performance in at least one scene. And he may be just about right for this part -- small, a little chubby, and repugnant. (He may have been plumped out because of congestive heart failure.) Poitier is the soul of reason and restraint. He looks right and he never steps wrong. He can make even the most stilted lines of dialog sing. He was probably one of the best dramatic actors of his time in Hollywood. Comedy was outside his range.
I felt -- seeing this for only the second time since its original release -- that there were four weaknesses undermining the film's strengths. One was the direction. Too many close ups, for one thing, of Poitier's sweating face and Darrin's over-sized schnozzola. And the constant switching around of identities during Darrin's tale telling was confusing. Sometimes it's not Darrin in Poitier's office. It's that ugly kid. And sometimes the kid's voice issues from Darrin's mouth, or his MOTHER's voice. Good scene, though, when Dad, James Anderson, shoves a piece of liver in the boy's horrified face.
Didn't care for the musical score either. Weird and intrusive. Art direction looked as if it had been executed on an almost infinitesimally tiny budget, almost at the level of my annual income. The city, the store fronts, the brownstone apartments, looked like cheap outdoor sets. The interiors were spare boxes, mostly empty. Nothing seemed cluttered or lived in. And when Darrin is selling apples on a street corner during the depression, it's supposed to be mid-winter and he doesn't look cold -- and he's just had a nice close shave.
The fourth, somewhat bothersome element was the script itself. I understand that what has appeared in print needs some cosmetic surgery before it can be presented on screen. Events must be squashed together, or excised, or rearranged, or simplified. But simplification shades into oversimplification. Example: Darrin has had only one "meaningful relationship" with a girl. She's pretty too. She buys all his apples and then invites him into her home. It's a nice home, everything Darrin yearns for, but the girl's father throws him out as an unworthy suitor, and the family is Jewish. Thereafter, Bobby Darrin hates Jews. Well, I mean -- really. He's been a little slow on the uptake all along, having failed to notice the mezuzzah on the door jamb or the mogen David around her neck.
I'd like to be able to say that the film's message -- and, boy, is there a message -- is out dated because you have to look under boards to find anti-Semites today, but I can't. Oh, we don't have the German-American Bund or Father Coughlin anymore, and the KKK seems dormant for the moment. The voices of the right are more political than racist, but we still have Evangelicals who believe only they will be saved when The Rapture arrives, while Jews and Muslims and everybody else will go straight to hell. And every once in a while there is an outbreak of anti-Semitic vandalism, not just here but around the world, even in places we prefer to think of as enlightened.
It's an interesting story but it's also a misleading story. I don't want to get technical but a major effort was made sixty years ago to find proto-Fascists in California (Adorno et al, if you want to look it up) and the high-scoring subjects weren't psychopaths at all but little old ladies and retired dock workers. A similar study in a Texas city found that authoritarian personalities were affable community leaders who had risen to the top by conforming to the values of the people they grew up with. In other words, Fascism doesn't come only from psychopathology. It comes from some as-yet-unidentified social wellspring.
The first anti-Jewish speech that the Darin character is shown listening to has an odd Twilight-Zonish twist in it : "They [Jews] want to take the nails and crucify him all over again !" At first you think he's talking about Jesus Christ, and is about to denounce Jews as "Christ-killers", but then you hear he's really talking about Adolf Hitler ! It's like in "The Twilight Zone" when you learn that "To Serve Man" is a cookbook !
Both "Pressure Point" and "He's Alive" are both, at least in part, a dialogue between two men : an American Nazi, and a man who represents Judeo-Christian morality. Both American Nazis were abused children, "slammed" around by drunken fathers, with cowardly, weak, and/or mentally absent mothers. Both, as children and as adults, "cry on the couches of" the men representing morality. In "Pressure Point", it is the couch of the prison psychiatrist played so well by Poitier. In "He's Alive", it is the living room couch of Ernst Ganz, an elderly Jewish concentration camp survivor, played by Austrian actor Ludwig Donath, who lets Peter Vollmer, the young American neo-Nazi, played by Dennis Hopper, stay the night in his home, however much he despises Peter's views.
Both American Nazis boast, "There's no stopping us !", but both are stopped, and told so, by the men representing morality. The prison psychiatrist tells the Darin character, "We stopped you, didn't we ?". Later, when the Darin character wheedles his way out of the prison on parole, by being a model prisoner, the doctor roars at him, "You can walk out of here, but you are going NOWHERE ! NOW GET OUT !" He does, and is later hanged for beating a stranger to death. Ganz tells Vollmer, after denouncing him before his previously rapt audience, "An old man stopped you tonight, with a few words. He stopped you with the truth !"
In an odd coincidence, actor Howard Caine appears in both stories. In "Pressure Point", he is the bartender / owner in whose bar the Darin character and his construction crew play their destructive game of "Tic Tac Toe". In "He's Alive", Caine plays Nick Bloss, a devoted but none-too-bright neo-Nazi, whom Peter Vollmer orders loyal deputy Frank to murder, so as to make a martyr out of him for their movement to advance.
Both "Pressure Point" and "He's Alive" de-construct Nazism by showing it capturing, and being a haven for, immature, insecure, desperate, and mentally and emotionally unstable people. In the words of Ernst Ganz in "He's Alive" : "Problem children ! Sick, sad neurotics, who take applause like a needle !" The psychiatrist played by Poitier repeatedly uses the term "psychopath" in referring to the Nazis.
There is an explanation of the dynamic of ever-growing American Nazi membership in both "Pressure Point" and "He's Alive". In the film, it is the Darin character explaining to the black psychiatrist how members bring other members, with ever-increasing financial support. In the TZ episode, it is Vollmer's shadowy advisor and benefactor explaining how to move and excite a mob.
In 1942, the doctor is assigned to give psychiatric treatment and evaluate a dangerous American Nazi patient (Bobby Darin) accused of sedition. The racist patient has nightmares and insomnia and the doctor analyzes him along eighteen months, finding the reason of his disturbance. The patient convinces the board of direction that he deserves to be on probation but the doctor is reluctant and diagnoses that the patient has only resolved his sleeping problem but is still a despicable bigoted person.
"Pressure Point" is a theatrical film of intolerance and stress, dated in 2012, but nevertheless a great movie. I do not know how accurate is the psychiatric treatment, but the duel between Bobby Darin and Sidney Poitier is outstanding, both performing victims with strong characters the patient, son of an abusive father that made him a bigot sadist and the doctor, a winner in a racist society. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Tormentos da Alma" ("Torments of the Soul")
As a framing device for the central story, a chief psychiatrist is confronted by a frustrated staff doctor threatening to resign due to the seeming hopelessness of getting through to an anti-white black patient. Hoping to convince the younger doctor not to give up, the psychiatrist - who happens to be black - flashes back to a similarly difficult case he handled during WWII when he was forced to treat a Nazi supporter who was in jail for sedition. The convict is a vicious racist and anti-Semitic, who is suffering from a sleep disorder and blackouts. The bulk of the movie is the dialogue between the two over the course of the convict's three-year sentence. What emerges is a portrait of a pathetic man who had a miserable childhood that led to random acts of sadism and ultimately his membership in the American Nazi (Bund) party.
Fantasy sequences and documentary footage are liberally used to emphasize the convict's malignant nature with melodramatic excess. The film's turning point is the decision to release the unrepentant convict, which pits the heretofore becalmed psychiatrist against the prison authorities convinced he should be paroled. As late as this comes in the movie, it's the only point where Sidney Poitier's performance as the psychiatrist comes alive. In fact, his fury is so characteristically electrifying that he replicated the scene on a more subtle level in the father-son showdown in Kramer's later "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner". As the convict, Bobby Darin gets the showier role, and while he is up to the challenge, he doesn't transcend it either. Peter Falk shows up briefly in the present-day scenes, while Carl Benton Reid adds some dimension to his small role as the chief medical officer. It all ends anti-climactically. The 2004 DVD offers no significant extras.
Twenty years back from the Civil Rights era, at its height when Pressure Point was made, back to World War II Poitier is a prison psychiatrist who gets one bad patient. It's Bobby Darin who had never been seen like this on film, as a racist punk who belongs to the German American Bund. Although Darin and his band of thugs have done some really violent crimes, some of which we see in flashback, it's for sedition that he's been arrested.
Still a recurring nightmare brings him to the couch in Poitier's office and the two of them develop a curious relationship. Darin pushes all of Poitier's buttons, in fact he's a pretty loathsome type. Curing his nightmares will not necessarily make him one that will socially adjust back in society.
Film Historians have called Poitier things like Saint Sidney for the heroic good roles he played back in the day as the first black leading man in mainstream films. He might just have qualified for it here, even more than in his film debut No Way Out dealing with another racist criminal Richard Widmark, that time as a medical doctor.
It was Darin who showed the acting chops here that were never displayed before. He was nominated for his performance as a Best Supporting Actor in Captain Newman, MD., personally I think this is his best screen work.
Pressure Point is a two person work, the rest of the cast merely serves as background figures. I'm wondering though why someone like Peter Falk consented to a role that's confined to two scenes at the beginning and the end with no real opportunity for him to display his talents. Still for fans of Poitier or Darin or both this is a chance to see them both at their best.
'Pressure Point' is a great psychological drama about a mentally disturbed, racist inmate, who is excellently portrayed by Bobby Darin, and also a sociological study of America in the early 1940s and the political climate at the time. Sidney Poitier plays a psychologist who tries to free his patient from his Nazi ideologies in order to re-integrate him into society. The movie includes a number of surreal elements in the scenes in which the patient talks about his troubled childhood with an alcoholic, vicious father and a helpless, needy mother, which are used to great effect. Barry Gordon is fantastic as the patient in his younger days. Hubert Cornfield's direction is very good and there are many stylish looking shots filmed from interesting angles (for instance from the perspective of a sink or from the ceiling), and also some longer tracking shots. I was very impressed with the unusually stylish look for this type of movie. Ernest Gold's jazzy score is also worthy of note.
'Pressure Point' seems to be quite an obscure movie these days and I really wonder why it has been so overlooked for decades. It's a hidden gem that is very well directed and includes excellent performances from the whole cast, especially Sidney Poitier, Bobby Darin and Barry Gordon. The movie certainly deserves much more recognition.
Bobby Darin was truly superlative in this racial drama as an abject racist convict undergoing psychiatric treatment in prison who lived and suffered with the false positives that a racist attitude toward the world can sometimes give a true believer. But he was also smart enough to know that his life and health were being ruined by an internal conflict over these beliefs, but he was powerless to purge his beliefs even if it cured his health problems. He was determined to hold onto the damaging beliefs that were killing him from the inside out, as they did provide him a convenient way to express internal hatred caused by a terrible and abusive childhood and perhaps severely flawed family genetics that did lead to his ingnominious demise years later while acting out his racial hatred. That internal conflict was the crux of the film and the largest reason for its critical success.....we all have some of that same damaging thing in us, no matter our race, and it always effects our lives for the worse in varying degrees. And, it only improves when our racial tolerance improves. It is as clearcut as that, and this point was well made by the film's end.
Sidney Poitier played his typically good, outraged-but-controlled-and-dignified-through-all-the-insults self as the convict's prison psychiatrist. Direction was outstanding, as was the very dramatic musical track, and the chosen black and white style was the perfect expression for the huge contrast in the life opinions shown. But, Bobby Darin was the star here, as he showed the strong acting talent that made me so sorry he was lost to us so early. He could have been one of the greats.
This film was ahead of its time but is still important today, and is also one of the best made concerning this always sensitive subject.
"Now let me tell you something ! This is my country ! This is where I've done what I've done ! And if there were a million cruds like you, all sick like you, all shouting down, "Destroy ! Degrade !", and, if there were twenty million more sick enough to listen to you, you are still gonna lose, because there is something in this country, so big, so strong, that you don't even know, that can take it from all of you and still nail you into the ground ! You are walking out of here but YOU ARE GOING NOWHERE ! NOW GET OUT ! GET OUT !"
One more similarity between the Bobby Darin character and the American neo-Nazi in the Twilight Zone episode "He's Alive" is that both say that a man must act according to what he believes. The Darin character adds that, if he doesn't, either he's no good, or his beliefs are no good.
This is not to suggest that Serling plagiarized the movie script or even the central idea, but to show the strengths in both stories by showing their similarities.
The problems are the drama-killing book-ends that frame the movie; the ponderous, purposeful, oh-so-serious approach to the story; Sydney Poitier burdened by the usual racism-repairing agenda. (What on earth is that accent of his?) The movie is interesting where it isn't trying to be. In the final détente instead of a Poitier triumph. In the matter-of-fact discharging of all of Bobby Darrin's threat. His racist schemes, which would in other movies provide an explosive climax that shakes Poitier to his foundation, instead is treated perfunctorily, as a tempest in a teapot, discharged with a ten word summary. That's dramatic, in that it's surprising and goes against the rather heavy-handed dramatic standards of the time.
In the film, Peter Faulk comes to a gray-headed Sidney Poitier asking for advice. He's new to the hospital, and he's having trouble with a patient. Helping by example, Sidney recounts a story of when he was a young doctor and also had trouble with a patient. The majority of the film is the flashback sequence involving a young Sidney and his troubled patient Bobby. Bobby isn't thrilled to have a black doctor, and Sidney isn't thrilled to be verbally abused every time they have a session. But he's a doctor, and deep down, he wants to help.
You might not actually like this movie, or you might find it dated, but you will be able to appreciate the acting. Bobby sheds his nice-guy image so thoroughly, if you didn't know him you'd probably hate him from this movie. Sidney embodies the title, giving the performance he does so well: taking and taking and taking until the "pressure point" is reached. If you like good acting, Stanley Kramer films, or racially tense films of the 1960s, this is a great one to watch. Rent it with No Way Out for a great double feature!