The Sidney Poitier Collection
Edge of the City (1957) / Something of Value (1957) / A Patch of Blue (1965)/ A Warm December (1973)
|Studio: Warner |
Film Length: Various
Aspect Ratio: 16:9, 2.35…1
Subtitles: Eng SDH, French
Release Date: January 27, 2009
Warner has reached into their MGM and Allied Artists libraries to bring its first ever box set of Sidney Poitier films to market. Unfortunately, they have also decided for the first time in a number of years to mix new to DVD titles with a previously released title in the same box set by including the A Patch of Blue release from early 2003.
Edge of the City (1957 – MGM - 85 minutes)
Directed By: Martin Ritt
Starring: John Cassavetes, Sidney Poitier, Jack Warden, Kathleen Maguire, Ruby Dee
In Edge of the City, John Cassavetes plays Axel Nordmann, a lonely young man with a troubled past which is revealed as the film unfolds. Through a personal if somewhat dubious connection, he gets a union job under an assumed name loading and unloading freight in New York City. His corrupt supervisor, Charles Malik (Warden) demands a cut of his salary as a kickback for getting him the job. While on the job, he befriends Tommy Tyler (Poitier), the leader of a different crew at the same yard. Tommy brings Axel out of his shell, and even sets him up on a date with Ellen Wilson, a friend his wife, Luct (Dee). Emboldened by his new friendship, Axel quits Malik's crew and starts working for Tommy. This doubly infuriates Malik due to his racist disdain for Tommy, and he is soon seeking revenge.
Martin Ritt's directorial debut has its heart in the right place, but is too awkwardly constructed to be completely satisfying. The screenplay takes a few too many shortcuts with plot and characterization such as suggesting that Tommy, who is embodied by Poitier as the friendliest guy you are ever likely to meet, has no friends besides Axel. I suspect that censorship issues also robbed the film of some of its impact. Warden captures the essence of his bigoted corrupt union supervisor, but cannot help but be unconvincing when in a fit of rage, the strongest epoithets he can direct towards Poitier involve using the word "black" repeatedly. In any case, the film rushes so quickly into its climax that it never really earns the level of On the Waterfront poignancy towards which it seems to be aspiring. It is still interesting as an example of the early feature film work of Poitier, Warden, and Cassavetes, all sharing the same screen.
Something of Value (1957 – MGM - 114 minutes)
Directed By: Richard Brooks
Starring: Rock Hudson, Dana Wynter, Sidney Poitier, Wendy Hiller, Juano Hernandez, William Marshall
The second film in this set was also Poitier's follow-up to Edge of the City. In Something of Value, Poitier play's Kimani, a native Kenyan from the Kikuyu ethnic group. He has been friends since childhood with Peter (Hudson) the son of British colonialists who was largely raised by Kimani's mother when his own mother passed away. Despite his closeness to Peter, Kimani finds himself drawn into the Mau Mau uprising after abuse from a racist colonist and the prosecution and incarceration of his father for a native practice deemed barbaric and criminal by the English courts. When Peter learns that Kimani was directly involved with a brutal attack on his family's home, he is heartbroken, but determined to find a way to make peace with his friend. The psychological strain of the conflict takes a toll on both Peter and Kimani, deadening Peter to his Father and new bride (Wynter), and sickening Kimani as he is drawn into increasingly violent tactics.
Richard Brooks' film about the Mau Mau uprising was extremely topical for its time, being released while the uprising it was portraying was technically still under way. It is also surprsingly even-handed by 1950s Hollywood standards, which is to say that it is only moderately condescending towards its African characters and it refuses to portray either side of the conflict as purely righteous. The childhood friends driven apart by social barriers finding themselves on opposite sides of a war is a familiar premise, but the novelty added by its contemporary African setting and use of spectacular locations in Nairobi freshens it up condsiderably. Rock Hudson gives one of his better screen performances as the conflicted colonist, although a bit too much time is devoted to his romantic relationship with Dana Wynter's character than the film really needs, stopping it in its tracks on more than one occasion. Poitier also gives a nice turn as reluctant revolutionary Kimani, who has hatred driven into his heart gradually as the movie progresses, and adeptly portrays the gradual deterioration of his soul. The final action sequence is somewhat awkwardly contrived at times, but still quite effective due to the audience's investment in these characters. Brooks handles violence with a very direct, almost Anthony Mann-style bluntness, keeping the really gruesome stuff just out of frame while still clearly establishing exactly how brutal it is.
Patch of Blue (1957 – MGM – 105 minutes)
Directed By: Guy Green
Starring: Sidney Poitier, Shelley Winters, Elizabeth Hartman, Wallace Ford, Ivan Dixon
Since this is the same disc that was released in 2003. I will not go into detail about the film other than to say that it is easily the best film in this collection, with outstanding performances from Poitier, Winters, Ford, and especially Hartman. Hearing a description of the film's plot, one might be forgiven for expecting a preachy archly sentimental chore of a viewing experience, but that is not the case at all. While the film has dated somewhat since the 1960s, it still works surprisingly well thanks to the keen sense of empathy brought to the project by Green and his cast.
A Warm December (1972 – First Artists/National General Pictures - 101 minutes)
Directed By: Sidney Poitier
Starring: Sidney Poitier, Esther Anderson, Yvette Curtis, Johnny Seka, George Baker, Earl Cameron
In A Warm December Sidney Poitier plays widower/ghetto physician/dirt bike racer Matt Younger. Matt and his young daughter Stefanie (Curtis) travel to London on vacation so that Matt can visit friends and participate in a dirt bike competition. A couple of chance encounters finds Matt fascinated with a mysterious woman who is frequently trying to avoid one pursuer or another. Matt eventually learns that she is Catherine (Anderson), the niece of the British ambassador from a fledgling African nation. Intrigued by her enigmatic nature, Matt takes up a romance with her, but discovers a secret that could both bring them closer together and ultimately drive them apart.
Poitier's directorial debut shows all of the hallmarks of a first-time director who is worried that he will not get to make a second film. This leads to an everything but the kitchen sink assemblage that ultimately promises more than it can deliver. The hints of spy vs. spy intrigue during the film's early going are ultimately deflated before we are a half-hour into the proceedings, the dirt bike racing feels like a gratuitous attempt to shoehorn a recreational activity that Poitier enjoys into the plot (a ploy no doubt stolen from the Steve McQueen playbook), and by the time the film reveals that it is actually the melancholic romance suggested by its title, one cannot blame a viewer for feeling betrayed and/or confused.
Those criticisms aside, the film's depiction of a thriving global community of ethnic and native Africans in a cosmopolitan European city must have been a pleasant breath of fresh air to viewers during the era of urban crime-focused blaxploitation films during which it was released. If one can forgive the film its multiple false starts during its first act, the subsequent romance proves to be a touching if somewhat predictable melodrama.
All of the films in The Sidney Poitier Collection are presented in 16:9 enhanced video. A Patch of Blue is letterboxed to its scope ratio of approximately 2.35:1 while all of the other titles fill the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. Edge of the City has heavily windowboxed credits suggesting that the film may have been formatted for a less wide ratio, but the film itself actually looks very well composed at 16:9. A Warm December is in color while all of the other films are in black and white.
Edge of the City and Something of Value have very nice contrast range with decent compression that is only slightly confounded by the film grain in the image. Edge of the City has a consistent level of fairly coarse grain throughout. Something of Value has much more variability, with some scenes having much finer grain structure than others. The good news is that both presentations are encoded at high enough bitrates and free of heavy-handed noise reduction so that critical viewers can actually get a sense of the grain structure. There are a handful of scenes in Something of Value where bright white highlights appear blown out, but it is not a pervasive issue.
A Patch of Blue looks exactly like it did when it was releases six years ago, which fortunately is pretty good. If remastered, it likely would have had some of the film element wear and tear cleaned up in the digital domain and benefitted from a higher bitrate, but as is, it is still clearly from a high quality source and is quite watchable, even on larger projection displays.
A Warm December has an oh-so 1970s palette that I suspect is faithfully reproduced on disc even though it looks a bit under-saturated compared to modern films or vintage Technicolor productions. Signs of film grain were evident, although it looked a tad filtered to my eyes. This effect was mild and while noticeable, I did not find it too detrimental to overall detail.
All films are presented with English Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks. All of them sounded like they were sourced from decent quality magnetic sources, although A Warm December had a much wider frequency "high end" than the others. Curiously, low frequencies seemed a little "rolled off" compared to the older titles. All titles also come with an alternate French dub track except for A Warm December.
All films in The Sidney Poitier Collection come with their original theatrical trailers. Probably the most interesting is the one for Edge of the City, which features unique footage of an impressed "script girl" and promotes the film under its original title of "A Man is Ten Feet Tall".
The only title with any other extras is the A Patch of Blue release from 2002 which includes a Commentary by writer-Director Guy Green, a text essay called Sidney Poitier - The Legacy, a Stills Gallery with 46 items including behind the scenes photos, press clips, and Oscar program excerpts, an Awards text page with a list of Acadmey Awards and Golden Globes won by the film, a Cast & Crew text page with cast, writing, directing, producing, and music credits. While these extras are great in quanity, the quality side of the ledger is completely dominated by Green's commentary which is very informative, low key but rarely dull, and worth every minute spent listening to it.
All titles are packaged in slim cases with covers that reflect contemporaneous promotional art for the films. The slim cases are bound together by a thin cardboard box with simple graphics and a full-body image of an early 70s-era Poitier on the cover. The disc menus for the three new titles are minimalist, with no chapter menus, although the films are encoded with chapters every ten minutes or so.
While I am philosophically opposed to the idea of mixing previously released content with new to DVD content in the same box set, The Sidney Poitier Collection is a fine cross section of Poitier's work from Warner's MGM and Allied Artists libraries for those who do not already own the previously released A Patch of Blue. The new films are presented with very good audio and video, likely limited by the elements available for transfer more so than anything else. For the three new titles, menus are sparse, and only trailers are added as extras. The previously releases A Patch of Blue retains the extras from the 2003 release highlighted by an outstanding commentary from Guy Green.