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When a young psychiatrist (Peter Falk) comes to his Afro-American chief
(Sidney Poitier) to tell that he can not bear a thirteen year-old
patient, the doctor discloses a similar experience he had with a
patient when he was a rookie and worked as prison psychiatrist.
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")
Although the genesis of hate crimes is worthy of a film treatment, this
heavy-handed 1962 melodrama is weighed down by too many theatrical
flourishes to be as genuinely powerful as was once intended. Some
critics at the time praised the bravery of such an undertaking, but one
can see in hindsight how director Hubert Cornfield, who co-wrote the
screenplay with Robert Lindner, doesn't seem to trust the basic
material enough to provide a more straightforward telling of the case
history of a psychopathic convict who hates non-Aryans with a virulent
passion. To further depersonalize the plot, he doesn't even give the
characters proper names. As a typically austere Stanley Kramer
production, it has the earmarks of the high-minded social consciousness
prevalent in the comparatively better films he made during this period
- 1959's "On the Beach" about nuclear disarmament, 1961's "Judgment at
Nuremberg" about the Nazi atrocities and 1963's "A Child Is Waiting"
about mental retardation.
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.
I never tire of seeing the very start of this film, when they're giving the credits. Intersecting white bars and eerie sounds make it seem you're in for the scariest movie ever made. And this movie has some pretty intense and bizarre scenes. The end, though, is quite moving and touching. The young shrink who despairs of ever getting through to a hostile black boy is inspired by the Doctor's tale of what he went through 20 years earlier. The lesson is just as relevant today as when this movie was made almost half a century ago: It can be very difficult for the different races to get along, but we've just got to keep trying.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I find an interesting and significant parallel between "Pressure Point" and
"Twilight Zone", specifically, the "Twilight Zone" episode, "He's Alive".
Ernest Gold's score, using high, quavering theremin, to suggest insanity and
panic, is extremely reminiscent of Van Cleave's music for the TZ episode,
"Perchance To Dream", enough to make me check that Van Cleave and Gold were
not one and the same (they're not !) The dark, urban, high contrast
cinematography of the film is also very Twilight-Zone like.
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.
The title "pressure point" reflects the strain the doctor was under while dealing with an intelligent racist. At one point the patient said in effect that blacks wouldn't achieve equality for "another 5500 years." But ironically the progress of blacks was greatly accelerated after the war, largely because of people like the patient. The 1942-43 period (i.e. when doctor and patient grappled)witnessed the turning point of the war, and beginning of the end of the Nazis. Their defeat meant the utter discrediting of the idea of racial superiority, which greatly aided the cause of minorities in the postwar period.
Reflecting back on another case during the days of World War II,
psychiatrist Sidney Poitier is telling colleague Peter Falk not to give
up on a case he has with racial differences between him and the patient
in Pressure Point. Science and the doctor's obligation to render
assistance cancel all things out.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Pressure Point has a lot of strikes against it, found in many
self-important "issue pictures" of the time (Three faces of Eve, Member
of the Wedding, nearly everything by Kazan). It's a bad movie. Despite
a startling performance by Bobby Darrin.
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.
Strikingly designed and photographed melodrama about racial tensions in America, one of only a handful of major studio films to show Americans being swept up in Nazi propaganda and connecting with it. A black psychiatric doctor recalls to his colleague a case from the 1940s which he almost gave up on, that of a racist and Jew-hating prisoner entangled in hate-mongering. The narrative is laden with flashbacks, but they are very stylishly presented, and director Hubert Cornfield (who also co-wrote the screenplay with S. Lee Pogostin, from Robert Lindner's short story) keeps the tension prickly and unsettling. Pugnacious Bobby Darin does a lot of spouting off as the racist, though his angry words (coming strictly from his character's point of view) are provocative; he needles doctor Sidney Poitier, literally getting under his skin, yet we can see he's a liar who won't listen to reason--or learn anything long-lasting from his sessions. So what is the point of all this? Is it that you shouldn't give up on somebody, even though you realize you're not going to break through to them, that they'll be just as rotten now as they were a year ago? As an actors' piece, the film is a worthwhile showcase for two terrific performers. As a think-piece, it certainly has the courage of its convictions. As an entertainment, it's a crackpot venture. **1/2 from ****
This is one of the greatest films of all time, and Bobby Darin was truly a masterful artist! I still watch, or, more accurately, study, his inspiringly gifted performance! Nobody else could have done any more to honor the part he played, just as he had been accompanied by the most impressively, realistically believable cast; but particularly in the flashback scenes, going back to his childhood. Not only must the acting be applauded as top-notch, but also every aspect of the strictly technical contributions; all woven together into such a superlative art form, as well as a deeply educational experience. . . . The writers, in particular, very cogently nailed down one of the most compelling themes of the film; where Darin points out, to Poitier, that America has the latter so confused that he continues to sing, "My country, 'Tis of Thee," while they're walking all over him! Poitier's most sensitive "Pressure Point" is really touched by that; and, despite the profoundest truths Poitier utilizes, to "neutralize" this very observation, one can plainly see the extent to which he is very dishonestly, with himself, and resentfully, victimizingly attempting to "cope" with it! Even the other psychiatrists at the prison only served to confirm the truth of Darin's contention; which remains just as true-in-itself, regardless of how disingenuously Darin proceeded to capitalize upon it! . . . As with James Dean, it "almost" feels "as if" certain people are symbolically fated to die young, as the kind who are a bit too pure for this world; and, thus, Divinely-ordained for protection from so many of its characteristically corrupting influences (Isaiah 57:1-2). Moreover, their early deaths sometimes serve the equally constructive purpose of "showcasing" them for the kind of "immortality," to popular perception, which should act, much more than it ordinarily does, to the intended benefit of all, exactly as Darin had so deservedly and successfully wished! . . . At any rate, Bobby Darin has made an everlasting imprint upon me! Had he been born for nothing but this role, it would have been no less superlatively worthy of the effort! And, speaking, again, of the good dying young, perhaps even "Giant" had served as a kind of "hypothetical preview" of what could have happened to Dean; although I still wish, as much as they both would have, that Divine Providence had left them in our midst just a little longer. . . . The only other currently relevant figure I'll explicitly mention here is Elvis Presley, who held his own, in a most magnificently meaningful way, with early greats such as "Wild in the Country," and, also, as Deke Rivers, in "Loving You!" As with Brando, however, Presley had been "showcased," much less "hypothetically," after the fashion of "Giant!" It would be a big mistake to regard any of these popularly-immortalized legends as mere accidents . . . Yet, to what Purpose as well as Design? Dostoyevsky said it one way, in just a single stroke: "If there is no God, then all is permissible!" Even Nietzsche, who claimed Dostoyevsky was one of the very few from whom he had anything to learn, very tragically, fatalistically took extra special note, no doubt, of this particular observation; until finally collapsing, about twelve years before his very end; from the most strenuously-insoluble dilemma; and the scathing "moralic acid," as he called it, which also helped to purifyingly burn his own most blessedly-agonizing soul to the very marrow; as he quite symbolically, surrogately, foreshadowingly, prophetically bore the sins of the shortly-upcoming Hitler!!!--Of whom Richard Basehart was so magnificently the best, despite even some of the otherwise most difficult quality of competition available, but who nevertheless shouldn't have even bothered, here!!! Try General Tanz (Peter O'Toole), along with Wolf Larsen (Edward G. Robinson), and even a special role by Adam West; if you care to understand why certain kinds of people are so much closer as well as further away from God than most, who feel so uniquely qualified to judge them! . . . Nietzsche also went into his coma the same year Hitler had been born, just as they had both died at "virtually" the same age! But Hitler was only the main symbol, predestined to go down tragically in flames. There were, however, others, whom Nietzsche meant more accurately. Castro was a better example, and Elmer Gantry even better yet, along with Billy Jack; but John W. Burns ("Jack," for short) shall always be one of my favoritecowboys!Or, even more accuratelymy very favorite!--Just as Superman himself, for that matter, was Zarathustra's kind of--Superman--too!!! But, then, Nietzsche, by his own admission, had also been too much of a poetically romantic dreamer, concerning every kind of possibility short only of Great Caesar's Ghost; despite even his acute awareness that there are fundamentally, ultimately only one of two ways to go, particularly into the twentieth century; including what could even have become of a Lucas McCain, in the form of The Mad Bomber!--Although, had anyone really harmed Mark, they would have had him to deal with, even in the nineteenth!!!
Pressure Point is a very interesting 60's movie. Stanley Kramer produced it, but thankfully he didn't direct it so it is a much more cinematic visually and less stiff and preachy than the films he did direct. There are many interesting visual effects in the film during the childhood fashbacks especially that really make this film stand out. And the performance by Bobby Darin (who was a well known political liberal) is amazing. He's the man you love to hate in this film. A hatefilled Nazi, but before they reveal this they show the audience what a nightmarish childhood he had that made him the way he is when he matures. And some of the things he says to the doctor (Poitier) are very hardhitting and seem to be very true really, such as when he talks about Poitier's love for America and how it didn't make sense considering how blacks were really treated in the USA in the 1940's when the film is set. Excellent performances throughout the film, a gritty but real message and intriguing surrealistic sequences made Pressure POint a film very worth seeing!
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