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One of the pioneering films of the early sixties, allowing for more freedom of the screen in terms of both subject matter and style, still waits to be rediscovered. It's Pressure Point, which almost - but not quite - made a fullblown movie star out of Bobby Darin. He had always hoped to be the next Sinatra not only in terms of singing but also acting, and he had the chops for each - though timing was against him as the Beatle invasion dimmed interest in American pop stars. Still, he did appear in about a dozen films, none more remarkable than this study of a psychiatrist (Sidney Poitier) analyzing a Neo-Nazi patient (Darin). Originally, producer Stanley Kramer (who wisely chose not to direct, something he wasn't all that good at) had planned to use a nordic-Anglo type for the patient, someone like the young Robert Redford perhaps, until Darin read for the role and blew everyone away. Though Darin was definitely mostly Italian, and probably part Jewish, and therefore very ethnic looking himself, he left the producer stunned with the intensity of his performance. When the film failed at the box-office, that helped to spell an end to his hoped for movie star career; also, Darin was so convincingly unpleasant that it was hard to take him as a light leading man in comedies with Sandra Dee after seeing him so hard-edged - unforgettably so - here. Poitier is quietly effective, and there's a nice cameo by Peter Falk as a boyish (?!) young psychiatrist who, years later, confers with the elderly Poitier and is told this strange story. Though much of the film is grimly realistic in the black and white style so popular at the time, Darin's dream sequences while under analysis are all surrealistically rendered and highly effective. And while there had been civil rights films made throughout the 1950s, none had ever been quite so daring as this. Here's a lost classic worth rediscovering.
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!
Splendidly acted social drama produced by Stanley Kramer. As is usually
case with Kramer productions (except perhaps "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad
World"), "Pressure Point" looks at society and the human condition,
much to admire, but also much to deplore. Sidney Poitier is on the side
righteousness, playing a black prison psychiatrist whose ideals are
challenged by his patient, a bigoted Nazi played by singer Bobby Darin.
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.
As a kid, I never failed to catch this movie when it was on TV. Bobby D. steals the show as a nazi punk with big time mental problems. He played a similar role in" Captain Newman, M.D." but this one had more meat to it.The boy actor who played Bobby D. as a child is Barry Gordon. There is an interesting Jack Benny connection here. In a 1961 Jack Benny Show, Jack was casting a TV special about his life story. A little boy comes in to audition and Jack is pleased that his parents aren't with him probably because he can get the kid for less money.Then the boy actor's "agent" (Barry Gordon) storms in and makes demands on the surprised Benny. Jack immediately signs up Barry to play him as a child instead of the kid actor. Little Barry wowed the studio audience with a letter- perfect imitation of Benny's famous"Well!" complete with black suit and tie and eyeglasses. A few years later Benny did an episode where he was casting a movie about his life and Bobby D. was the guest star. This time Jack wanted Bobby to play him as a young man! It should also be noted that James Anderson who plays Barry/Bobby's sadistic butcher father in "Pressure Point" is the same actor who played the sadistic racist father in "To KIll a Mockingbird" which like "Captain Newman, M.D." featured a young actor called Robert Duvall as a catatonic.Mr. Anderson was always excellent in a malevolent role. Downright menacing I'd say. If Bobby had lived he might have tied Sinatra in the "legendary all-around entertainer" category.
Bobby Darin has earned my utmost respect.
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.
Pressure Point is a taught drama that pits a Nazi prisoner against an black
psychiatrist. The story, its presentation and direction are remarkably
ahead of their time, and present an object lesson in good cinema that might
have saved us such unfortunate and forgettable pretension as Memento if only
people bothered studying cinema before inflicting their version of it on the
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film in 1962 was quite controversial. Even having an
African-American as a sole lead of a film was quite rare and often
worrisome to film studios concerned about making money. Sadly this is
still an issue amongst film studios today. If you can't get Denzel
Washington many films that would star a black character are shelved.
Case in point, a few years back Spike Lee was trying to do a film based
on Jackie Robinson, because he couldn't get Denzel, the film was
temporarily shelved. Sydney Poitier was the lone black film star of the
time. Sadly in the late 60's people would brand him an "Uncle Tom" who
played the game of white society, but films like this and In the Heat
of the Night among others must have been overlooked by his accusers.
"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 wish that Hubert Cornfield, this film's director, had directed more films. I have seen this one and three others ("Plunder Road", "Lure of the Swamp" and "Night of the Following Day") and they all bear the stamp of a unique and very idiosyncratic vision. The flashback scenes of Bobby Darin's character in this film are truly unique and often quite disturbing, recalling Bunuel and Cocteau in their oneiric intensity. Definitely worth checking out if you are into offbeat and skewed cinema.
Bobby Darin gives the performance of his career in this excellent if virtually unknown film. He is 100% believable as an American Nazi who tries to play psychiatrist Poitier like a violin with some success. Poitier is equally marvelous as the psychiatrist who must work extremely hard to take himself out of the process so he can concentrate on helping his patient. I was on the edge of my seat from beginning to end by both actors' incredibly sexy performances. Peter Falk is excellent in the small role of Poitier's young protege.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's 1942. Sidney Poitier is a psychiatrist at a federal prison who
takes on Bobby Darin as a patient. Darrin, a racist and a member of the
German-American Bund, is in the slams for advocating the overthrow of
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.
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