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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » A Child is Waiting (Blu-ray)
A Child is Waiting (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // November 24, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matt Hinrichs | posted November 17, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

Won't somebody please think of the children?

Earnest, provocative message-drama in the mold of To Kill a Mockingbird, A Child Is Waiting addressed the issue of how to care for developmentally disabled children - a heady topic for 1963, and now. Kino's Lorber's beautiful looking Studio Classics Blu-ray brings a bit more exposure to this overlooked, sensitively done effort from producer Stanley Kramer (Judgment at Nuremberg).

A Child Is Waiting stars Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland as employees at the Crawthorne State Training Institute, a cloistered school intended for challenged kids to learn and interact with others like themselves. Garland's Jean Hansen, a newly hired music teacher, develops a special bond with one student, a slow yet otherwise regular-appearing boy named Reuben (Bruce Ritchey). Miss Hansen's attentiveness toward the boy goes against the rigid principles of Dr. Matthew Clark (Lancaster), who runs the school with a firm yet sympathetic hand. Although Miss Hansen has the best intentions in mind, Clark cautions that she's diverting Reuben's love from where it should be - the boy's parents (played with nuance by Steven Hill and Gena Rowlands). Reuben ends up feeling abandoned by his mother and father, however, when they fail to show up on the school's visiting days. Abby Mann's perceptive screenplay gets its thrust from the conflict between two sets of ideals - whether these kids should be hidden away from society, kept in the hands of experts, or whether parents should be better-educated for dealing with autistic or Down's Syndrome-afflicted offspring. Kind of a daring topic for 1963, made all the more realistic with the casting of actual developmentally disabled kids as students.

As interesting as it is from a modern perspective, A Child Is Waiting ended up being perceived as a forgotten flop - Stanley Kramer entrusted the direction to newcomer John Cassavetes, a decision that went over so badly that Cassavetes quit and eventually disowned the film. Working with unpredictable children and movie stars not used to his improv-reliant technique, the director wound up floundering. The end result is sort of an uneasy mixture of both mens' sensibilities. Despite it all, Cassavetes got some great work out of the two lead actors, who are cast to their strengths - Lancaster as the solid, unyielding authority figure, Garland as a wounded, nurturing soul. He also gets a few excellent scenes from Rowlands and a handful of other reliable actors, ranging from Citizen Kane actor Paul Stewart to Juanita Moore - so fantastic in Imitation of Life and making the best of a small, uncredited role as the mother of one of the students. The camera work and scene transitions are surprisingly fluid, organically moving the story along. The only intrusions came with Kramer's meddling with the editing after Cassavetes left the production, slowing down the film speed on a few close-ups to make them longer. Elements like Ernest Gold's intrusive score remind viewers that you are watching an Important Hollywood Picture, when the story and characters are strong enough on their own.

Taken in full, A Child Is Waiting is something of an undiscovered gem. Judy Garland fans praise this as one of her best performances, although there are many other reasons to give this unflinching drama a go.


Note: images are from promotional sources and do not reflect the quality of the Blu Ray under review.

The Blu-ray:


Video

I remember marveling at how clear and lovely the image quality was the first time I saw A Child Is Waiting on a Turner Classic Movies broadcast. Thankfully, it appears that a similar pristine print (or digital restoration) was used on Kino's Studio Classics Blu-ray. There are a few artifacts here and there, but generally the black and white, 1.66:1 image looks great. The image is sharp without succumbing to edge-enhancement, while the grey levels have a richness and variety.

Audio

The film's mono soundtrack is presented in a satisfactory mix sporting clear dialogue and subtle music cues. Despite the age of the source print, it's a relatively clean track with hardly any distortion or hiss. No subtitle track or alternate audio is provided.

Extras

An informative feature-length Audio Commentary includes John Cassavetes: Lifeworks author Tom Charity and film historian Michael Van Den Bos. Recorded together, the two have a good rapport with each person contributing their own perspectives on this film's production. Trailers for this film and similar Kino Studio Classics releases Judgment at Nuremberg, Separate Tables and Elmer Gantry round out the extras.

Final Thoughts

An offbeat entry amongst the films of John Cassavetes, 1963's A Child Is Waiting nevertheless sports some excellent work from Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland. The struggles of caring for developmentally disabled children might have made for a treacly, dated movie, but the end results are heartfelt and intriguing - even today. Highly Recommended.


Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.

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