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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Lilies of the Field: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
Lilies of the Field: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // Unrated // March 15, 2016 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Twilighttimemovies]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted April 15, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Ralph Nelson's Lilies of the Field (1963), adapted from William Edmund Barrett's novel from a year earlier, remains one of star Sidney Poitier's most memorable and iconic roles. Of course, it's almost better known as the one which earned him the Oscar for Best Actor that year, a historic win that hadn't been matched since Hattie McDaniel's performance in Gone with the Wind almost 25 years earlier. Lilies of the Field is also notable for a folk-tinged, memorable score by the late Jerry Goldsmith, then just nine years into his prolific career that would last four more decades.

The story is about as simple as movies get: it's got the absolute bare minimum of setup, allowing this character-driven drama to unfold at a relaxed pace. Ex-G.I. Homer Smith (Poitier) stops for water at a farm in Arizona, obliged by a group of European nuns led by "Mother Maria" (Lilia Skala). There's an obvious language gap as the women know very little English, but Maria immediately understands one thing: the strapping young Smith (dubbed "Schmidt" by the group) has been sent by divine circumstances to build a chapel on the property. He's a skilled handyman---a jack-of-all-trades, even---but reluctant to help: it's a big job for one man, they have very little money, and he doesn't share their Catholic faith. Yet pride wins out: before he knows it, "Schmidt" is laying bricks and sharing meals with his new hostesses, unsure of where they'll get the rest of the much-needed materials. He's also teaching them a bit of English along the way, whether through conversation or song (in particular, Southern Baptist gospel music).

Most movies, message-driven or otherwise, live or die by their lead performance and Lilies of the Field is no exception. Luckily, Poitier is his usual magnetic self and carries the film with a charismatic, immediately accessible performance. It's the film's most obvious saving grace (pun intended), and one of the reasons why Lilies of the Field is still enjoyable despite being so firmly rooted in the past. It might as well be a hundred years old at this point, but that's just part of the charm. Goldsmith's score isn't far behind; it'll probably be stuck in your head for hours afterward.

New audiences unfamiliar with Lilies of the Field's message, on the other hand, may not be completely won over. I first saw it during my late single-digit years and enjoyed the surface-level story, never fully processing that the film was actually playing to a specific type of religious audience. While the back-and-forth debating between "Schmidt" and the nuns can be appreciated by those of all beliefs (or lack thereof), there's a strong undercurrent of high school-level philosophy that really rubbed me the wrong way; one man even describes his faith as "life insurance" by way of Pascal's paper-thin Wager. It's just one of several eye-rolling moments for those who can't fully embrace Lilies of the Field's occasionally narrow sentiments...but to the film's credit, it overcomes the limited scope with (mostly) three-dimensional characters and a slow but steady pace that feels perfect for a relaxing weekend matinee.

Originally released on DVD by MGM back in 2001, Lilies of the Field was given a slight DVD upgrade by Kino less than six months ago; of course, anyone familiar with MGM titles should've known a Twilight Time Blu-ray was right around the corner, as they currently hold exclusive high-def rights to the studio's massive back catalog. It's been worth the wait, too: Twilight's Blu-ray serves up an improved A/V presentation, even adding a few thoughtful extras for good measure. Those with fond memories of the film (followed by a 1979 sequel starring Billy Dee Williams, yet to be released on disc) should definitely consider an upgrade, thanks to its easy charms and obvious replay value.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, this crisp 1080p transfer (provided by MGM, and exclusive to this release) is a very good effort that easily eclipses both Kino's 2015 DVD release and the much older MGM disc. Image detail and texture are quite impressive with strong black levels (especially during the many outdoor scenes), good contrast, and no glaring amounts of dirt and debris along the way. Digital imperfections are kept to a minimum; in fact, my only nitpick is what appears to be trace amounts of noise reduction...although to be quite honest, it could just be that the film grain is much more noticeable in certain shots. Either way, this is still top-tier work that represents Lilies of the Field's best home video presentation to date; for that alone, long-time fans should be thrilled.

DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.

The main option (aside from an Isolated Music Track with limited effects, presented in lossless 2.0) is a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix that preserves the film's one-channel roots. This is a relatively strong effort that features crisp dialogue and occasional moments of slight depth, while background effects and Jerry Goldsmith's music cues (and, of course, the on-screen singing) rarely fight for attention. Volume levels and dynamic range are steady from start to finish; though it's obviously less full and rich in comparison to more modern films, Lilies of the Field sounds a decade or two younger than its age implies. Optional English SDH subtitles have been included during the main feature.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The interface is plain but perfectly functional, with quick loading time and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. This one-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with striking black-and-white artwork and a nice little Booklet featuring production stills, vintage promotional artwork, and the usual essay penned by TT regular Julie Kirgo.

Bonus Features

Aside from the Isolated Score mentioned above, we also get a full-length Audio Commentary with film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman, as well as the film's lengthy Theatrical Trailer. The commentary, as expected, is a well-rounded and entertaining track, with plenty of historical tidbits and dissection of the main themes. Though more first-hand participation or vintage extras would've been appreciated (Poitier's Oscar acceptance speech?), the simple fact that there's more effort here than both previous DVDs should please die-hard fans of the film.

Final Thoughts

Ralph Nelson's Lilies of the Field isn't star Sidney Poitier's best film...but it's one of his best performances, and that alone makes it worth watching. The film's charm can be a little deceptive, though: it tries appealing to all audiences but may distance those who don't share its faith, drawing a line in the sand that probably should've been left alone. Yet this obviously dated production still endures due to Poitier's terrific (and rightfully award-winning) lead performance and Jerry Goldsmith's memorable score. Either way, Twilight Time's new Blu-ray should appeal to established fans, serving up a strong A/V presentation and more bonus features than both previous DVDs. Those new to the film should try out the much cheaper DVDs first, but interested parties will get their money's worth. Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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