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Lilies of the Field

If it were made today, Lilies of the Field would be a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie. But in 1963 it was the kind of feel-good film that garnered popular audience appeal. Sidney Poitier stars as Homer Smith, an itinerant jack-of-all-trades who drifts from job to job shunning real responsibility and commitment. When Homer happens upon a group of European nuns who are barely eking out an existence in the American Southwest, he stops to give them a hand with a few chores. He's hoping to make a little money and then move on, but when pushed by the strong will of Mother Marie (Lilia Skala), Homer gets more than he bargained for. Mother Marie, thanking God for "the big strong man He has sent," has big plans for Homer. She convinces him to stay on (at no pay) and build a chapel for the nuns and the local townspeople. The rationale for Homer's decision to stay is rather thin, but his own hubris appears to be reason enough to get a job in town to help support the nuns, act as their chauffeur and English teacher, and, in his spare time, attempt to build a chapel by himself. Homer and Mother Marie initially have a wary and sometimes adversarial relationship, but over time they learn lessons from each other about friendship, faith, and humility. This growing affection and mutual respect is the true aim of the film. In his Oscar-winning performance (he was the first African American male to win an Academy Award), Poitier imbues the character of Homer with a complexity and texture that elevates the film to better-than-average entertainment. Poitier also shows a fine comic sensibility, particularly in a scene where he is teaching the nuns to speak English and he can't resist throwing in some good Southern dialect with a few "y'alls." Along with In the Heat of the Night, Lilies of the Field illustrates the talents that brought Poitier to stardom. The film was adapted by James Poe (a notable script-doctor on many films, including They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) from the novel by William E Barrett, and was produced and directed by Ralph Nelson. Nelson (Charly, Requiem for a Heavyweight) fashions the film in a style reminiscent of Stanley Kramer, but without delivering a heavy-handed message. MGM's DVD release, presented in 1.66:1 widescreen, shows off the sometimes stunning black-and-white photography of prolific cinematographer Ernest Haller. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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