A Child Is Waiting (1963) Poster

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10/10
A painful but compelling study about retarded children.
lugonian16 February 2001
A CHILD IS WAITING (United Artists, 1963), directed by John Cassavetes, is a groundbreaking study about mentally retarded children (today called mentally challenged), as seen through the eyes of Jean Hansen (Judy Garland), a new music teacher. Besides the top-billed Burt Lancaster, excellent as Matthew Clark, a strict but fair superintendent doctor of a state institution, the central character here is a 12-year-old-boy named Reuben (Bruce Ritchey), a borderline case, who is abandoned at the institution by his father (Steven Hill), who cannot accept his son's state of condition, which puts a conflict on his marriage. Although he and his wife (Gena Rowlands) also have a younger daughter, the father is the one who tries to forget about Reuben's existence. Two years pass with the silent and sad-faced Reuben seen patiently waiting, in hope that one of his parents will some day come to see him on visiting day. He fails to make friends with the other kids and remains mostly to himself, sometimes becoming difficult in the classroom, but after he meets Miss Hansen, he soon bonds with her. In spite of Dr. Clark advising her to stay out of the family affair, Miss Hansen tries to see what she can do to get one of the parents to come to visit with him. After tense moments between Miss Hansen and Reuben's mother, as well as with Dr. Clark, a compelling scene ensues when Reuben's mother leaves without making an effort to see Reuben. She gets in her car, drives away only to be spotted by Reuben, who tries to chase after the car.

What makes this movie particularly interesting to watch is not only seeing Judy Garland, known for her musical film roles in her glory days at MGM, tasking a difficult role with warmth and conviction, but the use of retarded children, actual patients of the Pacific State Hospital in Pomona, California, where most of the movie was filmed. Baby boomers who grew up watching the 1960s TV show, LOST IN SPACE, will notice young Billy Mumy of that same program appearing very briefly as one of the patients who greet Miss Hansen at the early portion of the story after arriving at the institution.

While the movie itself was a commercial failure when released, mainly due to its sensitive subject matter, I find that it was ahead of its time, and only Stanley Kramer, who produced this, could challenge such a project and make it work so well. Yes, there are moments when a viewer will try to refrain from getting all teary-eyed, but be warned, it's impossible not to do, especially before the fadeout. The scene with Miss Hansen directing a Thanksgiving play with the children performing for the audience, their parents, is also moving, as is the scene where Reuben, after appearing in the show, stepping down from the stage and being surrounded by a crowd of people only to look up and find that special person there to greet him. A CHILD IS WAITING, available on video, can also be seen occasionally on Turner Classic Movies. When last aired on that station, host Robert Osborne has mentioned that the movie was originally a 1957 television play. But as for the 1963 screen adaptation, done tastefully with conviction, it should be seen and studied, for that a movie such as this only comes around once. And let's not forget young Bruce Ritchey as Reuben in a great performance of his short-lived acting career. (****)
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10/10
One of the most extraordinary filmgoing experiences you'll ever have.
Hermit C-22 November 1999
This is a remarkable motion picture. Its subject, mental retardation, is one that most of us avoid as much as possible. But it's a fact of life for millions--those diagnosed with it, their families and friends, and the people who work with them. If they have the courage to face up to it every day, we should at least have the nerve to do something as easy as watch a film. It turns out to be a much more rewarding experience than many might expect.

Judy Garland plays Jean Hansen, an over-thirty woman "drifting" through her life. To give it some purpose, she applies for work at an institution for mentally retarded children, though she has no expertise in the field. Dr. Clark (Burt Lancaster), who runs the place, has doubts about her altruism, but gives her a chance. Miss Hansen soon becomes attached to one young boy in particular--too attached for Dr. Clark's liking. He's a proponent of a modified "tough love" approach, one that calls for the students to do whatever they can for themselves to the best of their abilities.

Unlike the popular style of today, the children aren't played by actors who try to imbue their characters with a Forrest Gump-like "wisdom." They are real children who play themselves and in doing so bring a power to this film that a cast of the world's greatest actors couldn't hope to equal. At the movie's conclusion the students are seen performing a Thanksgiving play before an assembly and the effect on the viewer is staggering. We like to think that in our present-day society we deal much more openly with subjects that were taboo in the past, but no one else to my knowledge has had the courage to take such an unflinching look at mental retardation as this 1963 film does. For that we can thank producer Stanley Kramer for bringing it to the screen and to director John Cassavetes for making it tangible. I can't imagine that there is anyone who wouldn't benefit from watching this movie. I also can't recommend it strongly enough.
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10/10
Greatly Under-rated Film; We'll Always Be Waiting ****
edwagreen5 March 2006
Shortly after making the blockbuster "Judgment at Nuremberg," Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster again teamed in "A Child is Waiting."

Ms. Garland, again takes a non-singing role, is captivating as a very sympathetic worker in a home for mentally retarded children. She encounters Lancaster, a child psychologist, whose strict methods are in reality what a child in this situation needs so that he or she can function later in life.

Garland takes an immediate interest in Reuben, whose parents left him at the institution and have never visited him. The father is an embittered worker and Gena Rowlands does well as the heartbroken mother.

Frustrated with his deficiency and wondering where his parents are, the child acts out. Garland shows sympathy but her feelings run contrary to Lancaster's methods and the two conflict.

It is not until the child runs away from the institution that the situations are resolved.

A truly wonderful movie which was under rated by critics.
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9/10
A Groundbreaking Film
bkoganbing15 December 2005
I wouldn't want to bet the rent money on it, but I think A Child Is Waiting is probably the first film to deal with the subject of mental retardation. In any event Stanley Kramer, John Cassavetes, Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland all ought to be commended for the work in this film.

My sister-in-law happens to have a mentally retarded sister and a late mentally retarded brother. They were in fact institutionalized at the time this film would have been made and later on were able to be a part of the workforce. To be sure it's menial labor, but the point is they are living independently. In fact her sister lives in a home for retarded adults now. She's closing in on 50 now.

I also had a neighbor with a mentally retarded child and she was kept locked in at home like some of the failures described by Lancaster in the film. They moved away when I was young, I never knew what became of her.

According to a recent biography of Burt Lancaster, John Cassavetes and Judy Garland did not get along at all during the making of this. Judy was going through some bad emotional problems at this time(when was she not)and working with the retarded kids in the film was pretty difficult for her. It was Lancaster who got her through the film and got her to focus on the role, channeling her own problems in life to what those kids had to deal with. Years later Cassavetes and Lancaster met up and some event and Cassavetes confessed he was green at the directing game and should have been more compassionate.

It's mentioned in the film that the president of the United States has a mentally retarded sister. Since that president was John F. Kennedy at the time, I wonder if the Kennedy family didn't have a behind the scenes role here.

I'm also glad that there was no romantic subplot going between Lancaster and Garland. Would have diverted too much from the film's impact.

And folks even today, it still has an impact.
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10/10
An absolute treasure
GTinsdale21 March 2005
I saw this movie when I was 11 years old as part of the Million Dollar Movie when Channel 9 in NY would play a movie for an entire week. I was in 6th grade and I had the flu and stayed home all week, and watched this film every one of those days - discovering new emotions every time I watched it.

This is truly one of the finest, most honest and beautiful films you are ever likely to see. It's incredibly well written and directed, and the acting is nothing short of perfect. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. John Cassavetes nailed it perfectly. If your local Blockbuster doesn't carry it, INSIST they buy it.

GT
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8/10
Warm and touching
Marie-626 February 2002
I saw this movie because many said Judy Garland was excellent in it. I thought, though, it'd be boring or stupid because it was going to be more artistic, like Audrey Hepburn's "A Nun's Story" (major dissappointment) but I couldn't have been more wrong. Judy stars is this with Burt Lancaster of course but the real star of the movie is Bruce Ritchey, who plays a mentally challenged boy. Jean Hansen (Garland) wants more in her life and gets the job as a music teacher for the mentally challenged children at an institution. Dr. Clark (Lancaster) is a physchologist with very controversial methods of getting the children to behave. Hansen falls in love with one of the boys, not romantically but more on a nurturing basis. He returns her love and they become the best of friends and inseperable. This worries Dr. Clark. He doesn't want to see the boy get hurt...Or more Ms. Hansen get hurt. He knows that "Love isn't enough" and in a very compelling, tear jerking scene, he shares this little tip with Ms. Hansen. This movie is wonderful. I think that Ms. Garland became more beautiful with each passing year. She was fantastic. Mr. Lancaster, too, was excellent as was the woman who playe Reuban's mother. This got an 8/10. I suggest that any Judy Garland fan see it. It took a lot for her to do this picture.
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7/10
Judy Garlands Best Performance
caspian19783 August 2002
One of John Cassavetes earlier directed classics, it is one of the very few times we get to see Judy Garland the actress and not Judy Garland the little girl. There is not sweet eye candy in this movie. Everything hits you in this movie! One hard hitting blow after another. Its personal direction, the original story, and some of the best acting from both Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster. A relic of a movie, you don't see too many classic like these. An enjoyment, a true taste of the human soul. It is forever an amazing film for the simple reason in the story's message of hope.
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10/10
An excellent moving showing how truly talented Judy Garland was and how she truly cared about others, regardless of what the press has made her to be.
henrysieg4 September 2005
This movie is really an absolute marvel, it shows such a variety of emotion. Judy Garland plays her part wonderfully and also her musical talent is extraordinary. The way she interacts with the children in this movie, is extremely moving. You can tell she really does care for them, and the performance at the end of the movie really is one of the most touching moments I have seen in a film. A++ for Garland, and Lancaster is an outstanding character as well, Gena Rowlands also makes a great effort in this film. The children who acting this movie could not be closer to your heart, the way it is done you can actually still feel for them to this day, they did a wonderful job casting for this movie. I could not say enough of how the film was done, along with all of the talent put into it, especially by Judy.
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9/10
Very Moving
jeffy-317 July 2000
This was one of the most moving films I have ever seen. The cast is exceptional, the direction sure-footed and matter of fact, and the screenplay rarely pontificates. The inclusion of real handicapped children adds to the realistic atmosphere. Should be seen by everyone, especially young people. Judy Garland is perfect in one of her last roles.
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Burt's staunchness and Judy's feeling make for compelling viewing.
Poseidon-328 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The quandary surrounding the treatment and raising of mentally disabled children is given a thoughtful treatment in this affecting drama. Lancaster is the head of a large school for mentally retarded kids whose belief that rules and mild discipline are inherent necessities for rearing the inhabitants is questioned by a new employee. Garland, as the new teacher, finds it a struggle to deny affection to one particular boy (Ritchey) and has trouble following through on Lancaster's more hard-edged approach. As the pair clashes, albeit without too many fireworks, the child becomes confused and agitated and is threatened with backsliding even further into dysfunction. Lancaster is solid and assured in his role. (He would bring a similar type of approach – that of the forward-thinking, yet put-upon, administrator – to his role in "Airport" several years later.) And no one eats a hot dog like Lancaster. Garland is not the very first person who comes to mind for a film or a role such as this, but she provides such gentle warmth and heart, along with her ever-present vulnerability, that it's actually hard to think of anyone doing a better job! She brings a tenderness and a commitment to her part that demonstrate her capabilities as an actress (inch long false eyelashes notwithstanding!) As the borderline youth of the story, Ritchey demonstrates proper disassociation and dysfunction, though, naturally, he doesn't really resemble most of the other patients. (The makers would have audiences believe that all the children are portrayed by actual students – and to their credit, quite a few are – however, the cast roster is dotted with several prolific child actors as well, including Mumy, Corcoran and Patrick.) Hill and Rowlands appear as Ritchey's fractured parents. He can't face the fact that he produced a son like this and she can't help wanting to coddle him to his detriment. Others in the cast include Marley, as an official not convinced of the success of the programs of the school, Wilson, as a veteran teacher, Tierney, barely allowed to register as Rowlands' second husband and Moore, as the welfare mother of one of the students, along with six other children. (Astonishingly, Moore, who was an Oscar-nominee just four years prior to this, does not get any billing in the film – nor here at IMDb.com – while Mumy, who barely appears at all, does!) There's a decidedly low-key and detached air to the film mixed with sentimentality, two sides that represent the backstage squabbling of producer Kramer and director Cassavetes. Kramer denied Cassavetes final cut, giving the film a mildly disjointed feel and focus. Still, it's a captivating and engrossing work, featuring a Garland that was rarely ever seen in film. It also makes substantial, non-exploitive use of several real life mentally retarded children. The film makes an interesting companion piece to "The Caretakers", released the same year, about newcomer Robert Stack clashing with old-guard Joan Crawford at a mental institution over the treatment of borderline patient Polly Bergen. Crawford would have tossed her popcorn at the screen during this film, however, since Coke is prominently featured at the school picnic rather than the Pepsi that got the plug in her movie.
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Supportive, descriptive.
sedaka14 October 2001
A truly heartwarming look at the every day lives of children at a mental facility. Judy Garland gives a great performance as Jean Hansen, a lonely woman on the look out for just the right kind of job.

Burt Lancaster is very convincing as the hospital psychiatrist. He is strict but in many ways kind to the kids. However, the one standout child in this movie is Bruce Ritchey who portrays "Reuben Widdecombe". The boy dislikes Lancaster for his strictness.

I thought Billy Mumy "Lost In Space" and "Twilight Zone" would have had a bigger part in this, yet he is only in a supporting role. Bruce Ritchey looks like "the boy next door", like any other normal kid. Judy Garland takes a great interest in Ritchey and gets his parents to come out to the hospital to see him.

The dad, Steven Hill, wants to forget that his son ever existed and refuses to come see the boy until the mother, played by Gena Rowlands, tearfully persuades her ex-husband to visit he son. She comes to the hospital herself but refuses to see Reuben.

All in all, the movie is wonderful. You will definately need to have a box of kleenex nearby. Ritchey will win your heart! I give it an enthusiastic 2 THUMBS UP!
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'Dorothy' is Not in Kansas Anymore
juliafwilliams13 July 2004
A Child Is Waiting is definitely a breakthrough movie, not only to showcase the unique gift for straight acting of Miss Judy Garland, but also to dramatize the dynamics and ramifications of working with people who are today called 'mentally challenged'.

Much has changed since the release of this movie. And while mentally challenged individuals are living more productive lives and being partially, if not fully, assimilated into general society, there is still quite a ways to go in preparing them for a productive life in society.

I am grateful that A Child Is Waiting was made, if only to educate the moviegoing public about mental challenges.

I think this movie is worthy of a remake.
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7/10
Emotionally Draining Drama Focuses on the Funding-Challenged Treatment of the Mentally Disabled
Ed Uyeshima11 August 2006
What an odd, unexpected movie this is. Stanley Kramer reunited Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland from his 1961 "Judgment at Nuremberg" for this grim near-docudrama about mentally disabled children in a state-run institution. Again working from a script by Abby Mann, Kramer handed over the directorial reins to John Cassavetes in only his third film. Some of Cassavetes' cinema-verité style is on display here, though there are definitely enough soap opera turns to make you realize that this is ultimately a social message film.

The director cast real patients from the Pacific State Hospital in Pomona, California, as most of the handicapped children and in one harrowing scene, as the mentally defective adults. This lends a searing veracity to many of the scenes, and the effect is mesmerizing. Intriguingly, a few are actors, and you are likely to recognize a quick glimpse of Billy Mumy (Will Robinson in TV's "Lost in Space") as one of the children. In the central role of Reuben, a borderline case, a twelve-year old actor named Bruce Ritchey is convincing in evoking the emotional isolation and inward terrorism of his character. The plot revolves around Reuben and the battle of wills over his treatment between Dr. Matthew Clark, the fair-minded director of the mental hospital, and Jean Hansen, a newly hired teacher.

Lancaster is such a forthright screen presence that he is automatically credible in the authority role of Clark. Garland, looking bloated and overly made up, has a role that suits her persona at the time. As Jean, she poignantly conveys an unfulfilled maternal instinct especially as she starts to focus most of her time on Reuben to the inadvertent detriment of the other children. Even without an Arlen song, Garland can capture the internal tremolo of a woman whose only avenue for love is the children. Obviously the character was tailored for Garland, as Jean is a former musician trained at Julliard who failed to become a concert pianist. In a defining moment, she does get to teach one simple rhyming song, "Snowflakes", to the children for a Thanksgiving pageant.

I like the fact that there is nary a romantic spark between Lancaster and Garland in the story, as they are there to represent opposing perspectives. I only wish there was a bit more emotionalism in the way they argued about it, as it takes an hour for either one of them to raise their voices. Due mostly to Mann's unimpactful, enervating script, the whole film feels mannered in that way, which is what prevents the film from being wholly satisfying. The lack of an emotional pay-off, while realistic, does not provide the closure a viewer needs with such a desultory story.

Familiar faces fill the supporting cast. Cassavetes' wife, a young Gena Rowlands, plays Reuben's brittle, guilt-ridden mother Sophie, while Steven Hill plays the emotionally disconnected father who takes Reuben to the hospital only to abandon him. Paul Stewart and John Marley play state officials who need to assess future funding of the school. It's a tough movie to sit through, but the honest depiction of the children and the state of such facilities at the time, along with the low-key sincerity of Lancaster and Garland, make this one worthwhile.
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8/10
Lancaster and Garland butt heads on how to educate some special needs kids.
MartinHafer17 April 2011
"A Child Is Waiting" is a film showing the happenings at a state institution for developmentally delayed kids. Back in the bad old days, people were routinely sent to giant state schools to live out their lives. Not only the mentally retarded, but blind, mentally ill, deaf and various disabled adults and kids were routinely sent off to these places--and it was the rare case where they stayed home with their families. This warehousing of these 'defectives' was thought to be best and fortunately for most of these individuals, such mass institutionalization has become a thing of the past (though de-institutionalization offers its own set of problems as well). The school in this film isn't quite a warehouse (you do get to see one later in the film) but it's far from a homelike environment. So, when you watch this movie, understand that it was very typical for the early 1960s--but not today.

Burt Lancaster plays a doctor who runs the institution in the film. In some ways, he's very likable and committed and in others he's a very hard individual. He hires a new teacher for the place--an inexperienced by well-meaning lady (Judy Garland). At first, things seem to go well but when the two disagree on how to handle a particularly troubled kid, sparks start to fly. This boy has been abandoned by his family and they never visit him--and Garland is determined to do something to get him to open up and become a happier and higher-functioning resident. She also wants to give her love to the boy. But for Lancaster, pity is not on his agenda--he wants to toughen up the kids--to force them to respond to his less cuddly ways.

For me, the story about the one boy is not all that important. To me, what's important is the insight it gives in the treatment and education of developmentally delayed kids--and to show how it was done long ago. to psychology majors, those who work in the field or anyone who lives with and loves someone with developmental delays, it's well worth seeing. A very good film--and you might want to keep a box of Kleenex handy just in case.

By the way, one of the kids in the institution was played by Billy Mumy--the same kid who later starred on "Lost in Space" and as an adult on "Babylon 5"--and played the scary kid with freaky powers on "The Twilight Zone". Barbara Pepper who played 'Doris Zipfel' on "Green Acres" plays one of the teachers. Also, Steven Hill plays the disturbed boy's neglectful and rather angry father. He played the original lead on "Mission:Impossible" as well as the original District Attorney on "Law & Order". Finally, this was one of Judy Garland's last films. In 1963, she made this as well as "I Could Go On Singing" before dying so tragically young.
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8/10
A Profound Conflict of a Movie
jzappa6 February 2008
A Child Is Waiting. What a wonderful title. It alone emits the feelings the film does. There are moments when we feel as if the film is going to take off into a flight of elatedness in its music, but the nature of the film in Cassavetes's eyes, Cassavetes not having been given a great deal of trust during the film's production, joins like a backdrop and we are reminded of the right, and occasional necessity, film has to reality. He certainly drew beautiful work out of Judy Garland. I see so many real people in her performance.

This, however, is not the film that Cassavetes initially made. Cassavetes wanted to make a film about the hidden, twisted beauty of a mentally handicapped child, that adults have less tolerance, patience, and basic wisdom that retarded children can have. Producer Stanley Kramer had other, more cautious, less daring thoughts. In his re-editing, he fashioned from Cassavetes's cut a film about the loneliness and pitiful existence of mentally handicapped people, and that the only place for them is in an institution. It would've been quite fascinating had Cassavetes been granted more trust by Kramer and screenwriter Abby Mann. Nevertheless, with this history behind this movie kept in mind, maybe one can find even more clarity in what is communicated. Perhaps both Cassavetes and Kramer had truth to their perspectives. Perhaps this is a very unique cinematic effect that has come from this very unorthodox film. If they'd been able to reach an agreement, their views could've combined and made a truly profound film.
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9/10
It can happen to anyone! It happened to a sister of the President of the United States!
sol12186 July 2006
**SOME SPOILERS**Hard hitting as well as moving story about a subject matter that at the time, 1963, was almost never mentioned even by those affected by it afflicting a family member, much less made into a major motion picture: mental retardation. As the movie "A Child Is Waiting" begins we see 12 year-old Reuben, Bruce Ritchey, left alone by his father Mr.Ted Widdicombe, Steven Hill, at the steps of a school for the mentally retarded Looking terribly confused and feeling lost. Reuben is borderline retarded which is the worst kind of mental retardation that a young boy like him can suffer from. Since even though Reuben has the mind of a five year old he can still understand that he's different from other normal boys and girls that he went to school with. Even worse Reuben can understand that he's been abandoned by those who love him his parents Ted and Sophie Widdicombe, Gena Rowland.

The school is run by psychiatrist Dr. Ben Clark, Burt Lancaster, who can be both as sensitive as a Mother Theresa as well as tough as a US Marine drill sergeant to the boys and girls in the school. It's later when Jean Hansen, Judy Garland, shows up for a job as a music teacher that little Reuben takes a very strong liking toward her. Miss. Hansen immediately connects with Reuben as a surrogate mother who by paying too much attention towards him has her ignoring the other children that's in her class.

The movie goes deep into exploring as well as enlightening the audience on what mental retardation not only is but also how so many people back in the early 1960's knew so little about it. The film shows how Miss. Hansen has good but at the same time naively misplaced feeling for those suffering from that disability. Dr. Clark sees right away that Miss. Hansen's feeling for Reuben will only drive him more into the shell that he's already in and warns her not to, which she does anyway, have his mother come over to see him. Which ends with Reuben having an emotional breakdown and then running away from the school grounds.

Reuben being found by the local police and brought back to the school has a very distraught Miss. Hansen, who holds herself responsible for what he did, offered to resign her post at he school as music teacher. Instead she's graciously given a second chance by Dr. Clark to stay on in him knowing, in her treatment of Reuben, that her heart is in the right place. Miss. Hansen stopped babying Reuben and started treating him like all the other students in her class and with that he stopped feeling like he was helpless and unable to function on the outside, as well as in the school,on his own. That lead the young boy to finally open up and be able to communicate with both his teachers and the other students in the school.

A difficult movie to watch but that in no way takes away the powerful impact that "A Child Is Waiting" has on those watching it. Were and Miss. Hansen are shown by Dr. Clark what happens to children who are overly protected from the world and people around them by those who love them by not letting them go out in the world and live meaningful lives to what ever level their limited mental capacity will bring them.

There's a very disturbing but effective scene in an adult sanitarium for the mentally retarded where we see the unfortunates there who were coddled by their parents, like Miss. Hansen was coddling Reuben, who were left on their own when their parents died or were to old and infirm to take care of them anymore. Unlike young children like Reuben they became so severely retarded that there was no chance for them to ever recover. Director John Cassavetes is seen as one of the sanitarium inmates walking around aimlessly waving his hands and talking to himself in an Alfred Hitchcock-like cameo in the film.

Burt Lancaster is at his usual best as the hard but well meaning Dr. Clark. Newcomer 12 year-old Bruce Ritchey is both touching and tragic as the retarded young boy who finds a home and family at the school that makes him for the first time in his short life really feel wanted. But it's the former child star and singing sensation Judy Garland as the very sensitive and understanding but somewhat naive music teacher Miss. Hansen who want's to find a meaning and reason to her life, by helping others, thats the real star in "A Child is Waiting". Judy Garland's Miss. Hansen really stands out in the movie as she learns that love if used with emotion not wisdom can be like a double-edge sword. For love to work effectively,like with Reuben,you have to let your mind override your feelings for it to succeed on whom ever your directing it on.
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9/10
A family tries to decide on a school for the retarded for their son
elliewarner2 July 2007
I came in about half way through the movie, but was still deeply moved by it. Judy Garland has never been a favorite, but she was excellent in this. Burt Lancaster plays it quiet and cool and is also great. The boy's mother, Gena Rowlands I think, portrays the family tragedy in every look and expression. Movies from this era are often overplayed and melodramatic, but this one is realistic and heartbreaking.

I would like to learn more about the making of the movie. A visit to a home for retarded adults had a documentary feel. I think it was a real location.

A heart wrenching predicament for families is presented with truth, compassion and understanding. I hope caring places like the home/school for little Reuben, as depicted in the movie, exist. This movie is definitely worth seeing.
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A FINE ENSEMBLE
herlenwein24 February 2004
Most of the comments concerning this film are positive and deservedly so. Produced by Stanley Kramer, written by Abby Mann and starring Burt Lancaster is hard to beat. The supporting cast with John Cassavetes directing do very well in delivering the films message. I saw this film in 1963 when it was first released. I remember something bothered me about it then but did not remember until I viewed it recently. There is a constant low audio hiss throughout the entire film making it sound like something out of the 30's. Sometimes it's not too recognizable but it's on the VHS tape just as it was in the theaters. I'd love to know why? Other than that it is a great film with Lancaster delivering what to me is a classic line: "What a pageant".
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9/10
Unanswerable Questions
harry-7630 April 2004
It is better to raise a question and not answer it, than to not raise it at all?

Working with the mentally impaired has always been a challenge for "normal" people. The irony is that the impaired don't know they're "different." It therefore behooves "professionals" to try and work with retards in constructive ways.

Often these methods may be based on theory without the conviction of definitive techniques. How much can the retarded actually be helped, if at all? And what profit is there for health workers, sensing their subjects may never progress much beyond their present state?

Burt Lancaster's director tells Judy Garland's novice employee that it's not so much what she can do for the children as what they can do for her. She learns to more balance and temper her tendency for over-affection, to provide for the subject to become more integrated into the group. Whether this is the best approach for all patients may be another matter.

Over the years we've seen less and less caring for the mentally defective, the homeless, the "special ed" and the like. With most mental institutions having been closed down and people out on the street, it's a sorrowful commentary on the nation's attitude toward less fortunates.

"A Child is Waiting" is certainly a challenging, provocative piece, showing various aspects of working with mentally defectives, from individual and group psychology to music therapy.

It's no accident that Garland and Lancaster were cast in these roles. Both actors possessed a strongly positive vibration of compassion and care. Garland was particularly interesting under the direction of avant garde experimentalist John Cassavetes and in the company of strong method actors Gena Rowland, Steven Hill and Paul Stewart. She holds her own and invests her character with tremendous love and concern.

Lancaster is equally effective--firm but fair--and with a deep compassion for his subjects. The two have wonderfully sensitive scenes together, with fine writing by Abby Mann.

Producer Stanley Kramer obviously tempered Cassavetes' style with full orchestral background music and final editing (after taking Cassavetes off the film). Still, "A Child is Waiting" is a most stimulating experience. It suggests that the question of how much we accomplish compared with these patients is indeed a relative matter. It forces us to look at generic achievement in a fresh manner and access our place along side the less gifted. Who is really to say what's "normal" and what's not? "A Child is Waiting" asserts that it this may all be relatively determined.
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9/10
Very moving.
ffreemon16 June 2012
What is the message of this film? It is hard to watch all these kids who have been dealt a bad hand. One expects Burt Lancaster to pull out his automatic and start blasting bad guys. Eventually it becomes obvious this is not possible. But those of us raised by Hollywood expect miracle cures of at least some of these kids. The great ending involves a skit put on by the children for their parents. The kids are so brilliant, Judy Garland tries so hard to bring out their best. What is the message? You must play the hand you are dealt. A re-deal is not possible; life has no Mulligans. The kids do their very best and the parents enjoy their accomplishment with limited abilities. One of the actors has a striking resemblance to the girl who plays his daughter in the film; I bet she is his real daughter.
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8/10
Moving semi-documentary
George Wright8 July 2009
This black/white film from the early 1960's, directed by John Cassevetes, had a powerful impact on me almost 50 years later. A semi-documentary, it is honest and respectful and never condescending in its treatment of children with intellectual challenges. Most of all, it shows how adults (teachers and parents) can change in their perceptions and attitudes, thus making it easier for the children to be happy and to learn.

The movie stars Bert Lancaster as Dr. Matthew Clark and Judy Garland as Jean Hansen. Clark is the devoted director of a school for the special needs children; his methods are controversial, because he was ahead of his time. Unfortunately, he didn't suffer fools gladly and had little patience for the officials who visit his school. Hansen is a new member of the staff who comes to feel that she has failed. And she has... until Dr. Clark takes her on a tour of a group of adults whose sheltered lives have made them totally helpless. This lesson is a turning point for the thirty-something Miss Hansen, whose life has been a series of false starts. The father of one of the boys, Reuben Widdicombe, also comes to the realization that he can take a positive and hopeful approach instead of feeling sorry for himself.

The movie is very instructive as we see people coming to grips with their lives and abandoning the stereotypes. Finally, the children in the movie are a joy to watch. There is a scene near the end where the children stage a pageant for the parents, behaving as children do in these performances and bringing great joy to the audience. There is a valuable lesson in this: there are no normal or abnormal children, only children.
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One of the few films that shows Garland's acting ability
nickandrew9 September 2003
Touching story of sensitive teacher Garland becoming attached to one of the mentally challenged students she is working with. Lancaster gives a fine performance as the strict doctor who is head of the school. One of the first films to deal with taboo subject, and to use actual handicapped actors in the cast.
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5/10
Curious vehicle for the stars has good intentions, little appeal
moonspinner557 July 2007
Potentially dramatic exploration of the human heart is simplified into a standard-issue soap opera (with do-gooder trimmings). Judy Garland, shaky but determined, plays middle-aged woman working at a children's school for the mentally-challenged; she immediately gets on the wrong side of school principal Burt Lancaster, who seems to sneer at her ambition and gives her a good dressing-down. Garland bonds with a near-catatonic child with absentee parents, and we are immediately made aware this woman needs to fill a personal void in her life by taking care of others--providing a certain emotional pay-off upon discovering her vocation in life may be to teach these kids (and reach their parents). I didn't quite believe anything in "A Child is Waiting"; it leaves behind no evidence that director John Cassavetes' heart was in it, nor why these particular talents would want to be involved. The good intentions may hook some, but Cassavetes shows little of the arty obtuseness which would drive his later, more ambitious and personal films about shattered men and women. ** from ****
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9/10
Possibly Judy Garland's last first rate role
theowinthrop17 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This film is from the twilight years of Judy Garland's career in movies. After A STAR IS BORN and JUDGMENT AT NUREMBURG there were only three major productions she did: this film, I CAN GO ON SINGING, and THE ARISTOCATS. While I CAN GO ON SINGING is a passable film, and THE ARISTOCATS a fair cartoon, A CHILD IS WAITING is above the average for a film of a movie star in decline, and of interest in dealing with the issue of mental retardation.

Stanley Kramer was producing this film, but was involved on IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD World, and got John Cassavetes to direct the movie. This explains three of the cast members. Kramer produced JUDGMENT AT NUREMBURG which had both Judy and her co-star here Burt Lancaster. Cassavetes was probably responsible for the hiring of his wife Gina Rowlands for the role of the retarded boy's mother.

Garland has just gotten a job at a clinic run by Lancaster for children with mental and emotional problems. Most of the children are suffering from retardation (in looking at some of the faces one can see many have "Down Syndrome". It turns out that Garland has been seeking a job which has meaning - she is in her thirties and basically rootless. She soon finds that her attention is towards a boy named Reuben (Bruce Richey), who cannot relate to the other children as Lancaster and his staff had hoped.

Cassavetes tries to make the film documentary in approach, with black and white film stock, and narrative regarding the history of Reuben's tragedy. His parents are Rowlands and Steven Hill. Hill comes from a family of achievers, and has high hopes for the boy. But as the child does not respond to such things as just walking, he is tested several times. To the despair of Rowlands and the denial of Hill Reuben is found to be retarded. Finally Hill agrees to putting Reuben into Lancaster's clinic. But the tragedy continues - After an initial period Rowland (who eventually remarries to Lawrence Tierney) stops visiting. Hill never comes at all - burying himself in his building firm.

Much of the film follows the internal conflict between Garland and Lancaster regarding the proper approach to caring for Reuben. Garland is quite big-hearted, and reaches out to the little boy (which Reuben does appreciate). But Lancaster's scheme of care is to get more interaction between the children, and to get them to have a sense of self-reliance and worth. He sees Garland's well-intentioned love as being detrimental because discipline is needed to get Reuben to understand rules of conduct, and Lancaster has seen too many children ruined by the best of intentions: they are treated as children even as adults, and never emotionally grow up.

Nature or nurture? It is an age old problem, made more vivid here by the individuals whose lives are affected by the method of treatment offered. Garland brings the crisis to a boil when she contacts (despite Lancaster's prohibition) Rowlands and Tierney to visit the boy. She lies to them, and when Rowlands realizes why Rowlands laces into Garland demanding to know how Garland can think Rowlands never thinks of Reuben or totally has stopped loving the boy. It is just that the strain it put on her and her husband, and Reuben's little sister, is too much to bear. But later Rowlands faces an even harsher verdict. Reuben runs away, and when Rowlands calls Hill down from his job he is hostile about the incident, and openly wishes the boy had died.

Later Hill calms down a bit, and decides to take the child's fate into his own hands. He has a meeting with a member of the staff of Lancaster's clinic (Paul Stewart), and says that he is willing to leave Reuben there if he is just isolated. Stewart points out this is not possible, leaving Hill with a choice: let Reuben remain in the clinic or put him into an mental institution for the rest of his life. Hill has not fully decided when he goes to see Lancaster's clinic during Thanksgiving, and sees the children in a production that Garland was in charge of.

It is a stark film - and not one for people who like life to be pretty and "normal". A key scene, where Lancaster teaches a contrite Garland a lesson, is when he shows her a separate room she has not seen before. All the inmates are adults who had been treated as Hill might want Reuben to be treated (by a "caring" staff in a mental institution). It is a lesson on the unconscious waste of human vitality and dignity that misplaced care can sometimes produce.

The performances are good, particularly Garland (who was in one of her emotional troughs at that period). Lancaster's tough love figure initially turns one off, until one sees the results of Garland's interference. But best is Rowlands, who in her scene with Garland demonstrates how the latter's well-meaning attempt to help just reopened jagged emotional injuries. Hill too is fine as a man whose disappointment ruined his vision of what should be done. And Stewart, whose part is somewhat peripheral, is able to validate Lancaster's methods do work, and that there is a better future for these unfortunate children if they are allowed to be guided to help themselves find it.
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7/10
STUDIO CASS FLICK WITH SERIOUS SUBJECT1
shepardjessica-117 October 2004
One of two of Mr. Cassavetes' forays into studio film-making in the early 60's which did not work for him (Stanley Kramer as produce, duh). Actually a touching film dealing with mentally challenged children, dysfunctional parenting, and the System. Gena Rowlands is beautiful and very moving as the main boy's mother and Steven Hill does justice as the father. Burt Lancaster is fine as Ms. Judy Garland in a dramatic role that's within her capabilities. The main child actor is excellent!

A 7 out of 10. Best performance = Gena Rowlands. I'm sure this film bombed because the studio re-edited it and Cassavetes was not pleased (no surprise). Beautiful script and cinematoraphy as well.
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