Classic Movie Reviews

Porgy and Bess

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Poitier was born in 1927 in Miami, where his parents had come to sell produce from their farm on Cat Island in the Bahamas (a British colony at that time). He was two months premature and wasn't expected to survive, but after three months of medical care in Miami he was strong enough to travel to the Bahamas, where he spent most of his childhood. His birth in Miami gave him U. S. citizenship and he has maintained dual citizenship ever since. At 15 he was sent to Miami to live with his brother and at 17 went on to New York, where he worked as a dishwasher. After a stint in the U. S. Army he successfully auditioned for a place with the American Negro Theater. When he got a role on Broadway in Lysistrata his good reviews led to being signed in 1949 by Darryl F. Zanuck to play a doctor treating a virulently racist white man, played by Richard Widmark, in No Way Out. His breakout role, in 1955, was as a high school student (he was 28 at the time) in Blackboard Jungle, co-starring Glenn Ford. In 1958 he became the first black male nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his work in The Defiant Ones, with Tony Curtis. He starred in A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway in 1958 and then reprised his role in the 1961 film adaptation. In 1963 he became the first black male to ever receive the Best Actor Oscar, for Lilies of the Field. By 1967 he was the biggest box office draw in Hollywood but was conflicted about the situation of always being cast as a non-threatening (sexless) "good Negro." He wanted to play more diverse roles but was also sensitive to the importance of presenting a positive image to counter prevalent racial stereotypes, since he was virtually the only black actor playing lead roles. Poitier also directed several films, notably Stir Crazy, with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder (1980), and Buck and the Preacher (1972), in which he also co-starred with Harry Belafonte. Perhaps his most iconic role was detective Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night (1967) with Rod Steiger. In addition to his Oscar, he has received two Golden Globe Awards, Life Achievement Awards from the American Film Institute and the Screen Actors Guild, Kennedy Center Honors and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1974 he became a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE).


"It aint necessarily so. The things that you're liable to read in the bible - they aint necessarily so."
    A film version of George Gershwin's folk opera about life in Charleston's black ghetto, Catfish Row. Some critics were lukewarm about the overall production but Gershwin's music leaves nobody unmoved and continues to be regularly performed to this day. The black community has been a little cool to the idea of a white composer writing an all-black opera but after several performances over the years there are now fewer complaints about that. Crippled Porgy (Sidney Poitier) gives refuge to Bess (Dorothy Dandridge) who is seeking to escape from an abusive relationship with Crown (Brock Peters). Sammy Davis, Jr. is well cast as Sportin' Life, a fast-talking opportunist who has his eye on Bess also. Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll are also part of a very solid supporting cast.


1959, Directed by Otto Preminger

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