Lilies of the Field
MGM
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted June 28, 2001
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Graphical Version
THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
The Sixties were a fast moving decade, crammed with significant social and political advances. So, it's no wonder that MGM has released Sidney Poitier's Lilies of the Field (1963) under their "Vintage Classics" banner while his In The Heat of the Night, released just four years later, falls under the classification "Contemporary Classics". That's because, while In the Heat of the Night burns with an anger that never ages, Lilies of the Field belongs to an earlier era.

Lilies of the Field is the story of unemployed handyman Homer Smith (Poitier) who stumbles on a group of German, Austrian, and Hungarian nuns in the middle of the desert. The nuns, led by Mother Maria (Lilia Skala), are in need of some help in repairing the roof of their living quarters. Once Smith fixes the roof the nuns goad him into staying for dinner. In a strange but energetic scene Smith teaches the nuns some English phrases by acting them out: "I stand up! I sit down!" The scene as written is too cute and silly to exist in this world but Poitier, through his ever present charm and eloquence, elevates the material above embarrassing. In fact, he does this throughout. When the nuns enlist Smith to help build a chapel, it's Poitier who turns the overly precious material into something more. There is a commendable simpleness to the film that runs straight through to the abrupt ending, but in light of the complex racial and emotional dynamics of some of Poitier's other films Lilies comes off as somewhat shallow.

VIDEO:
The black and white cinematography is simple but effective, with some high contrast scenes. Colorized in some video release, this is the best Lilies has looked in a long time. The transfer is good but a little muddy at times. Still, considering the age of the film it looks good. The transfer is not anamorphic but it is not a very widescreen film.

AUDIO:
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is a bit quiet at times and some of the dialog a little tough to decipher. No English subtitles are included (why?) but French and Spanish are.

The folksy score by Jerry Goldsmith is terrific, however.

EXTRAS:
Only a trailer.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Although Poitier won an Oscar for his role in Lilies of the Field it is hardly his best film. Still, it exudes a certain kind of innocence that can be refreshing.

Also starring Sidney Poitier:
In the Heat of the Night

Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer. He lives in Brooklyn.

E-mail Gil at buskerdog@yahoo.com


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