…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
The concept of love being color-blind may, by today’s standards, seem a little trite. In 1965, when A Patch of Blue was released in theaters, interracial relationships had not even caught on and in fact were quite possibly seen as taboo. In essence, this gentle little film from MGM was rather groundbreaking for its time. And surely it would not have have been nearly so successful were it not for the two wonderful actors at its center, who bring the story of a young blind girl who falls for her African American mentor (and savior of sorts) so engagingly to life. It tugs at your heart-strings, and not in an overly sentimental or sappy way, either.
Selina D’Arcey (Elizabeth Hartman) is an 18 year-old blind girl who lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her slovenly, foul-mouthed mother Rose-Ann (Shelley Winters) and soppish grandfather, Ole Pa (Wallace Ford). Confined to spending her days stringing beads for Rose-Ann and being the general cook and housekeeper of the place, Selina lives for the days when Ole Pa takes her to the park and leaves her there to take in some fresh air. One day, she meets up with Gordon Ralfe (Sidny Poitier) who visits the park on his lunch break. Recognizing her dilemma, Gordon befriends Selina and teaches her several of the things she has never had the chance to learn in her almost-adult, unschooled life – such as finding her way around (even as a blind girl), enjoying a sweet, refreshing taste of pineapple juice with a delicious lunch, and even how to cross the street by listening for the traffic to stop and counting her steps. Eventually, as time passes, he also teaches her that she has the ability to fall in love, though this is involuntary on his part. He knows how it ‘appears’ for a black man to assist – and just be with – a white girl, and even his own brother warns him of the risk. Selina does, indeed, come to love him and confesses her love, but she is still constrained to a dangerous life with Rose-Ann. Meanwhile, in hopes that his efforts with educating Selina are not in vain, Gordon does all he can to plan her escape to a better life away from Rose-Ann’s selfish clutches.
The casting of 1963 Best Actor winner Sidney Poitier and first-time Best Actress nominee Elizabeth Hartman for A Patch of Blue was perfect, and director Guy Green manipulates their chemistry with a tender, gentle touch. Sidney Poitier is every inch the charming gentleman we expect him to be, and his portrayal of Gordon is strong, reliable, and so earnestly dedicated that we can understand why Selina falls in love with him. Who else indeed would we want to care for Selina? Elizabeth Hartman imbibes Selina with such tender naiveté, innocent goodness and pathos that we cannot help but be sympathetic to her plight. Hartman (who was not blind in real life) gently and deftly skirts the potential to come across as saccharine. Her breakdown at one point in the film could easily bring you to tears; she is so believable. Shelley Winters took home her second Supporting Oscar for playing Selina’s brutal and brash mother, who treats Selina abominably – perhaps out of guilt for being responsible for Selina’s blindness (you’ll have to see the film to find out how). Surely, Winters paved the way in this role for someone like Mo’Nique, who won the Supporting trophy last year in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire in a very similar, chilling portrayal. Rumor has it that Winters was speechless when she accepted her Oscar, she detested the role so much.
I was saddened when doing some research into Elizabeth Hartman to discover that she had died at the young age of 43. She suffered from extreme depression for most of her life and subsequently took her own life. A sad ending for a very promising young woman, and surely a sorrowful testament to the extremely debilitating and potentially fatal outcome of this disease. I am so thankful we have this beautiful film to live on as a shining example of her work.
At the time of her nomination, Hartman was the youngest actress to be nominated for Best Actress (she was 22). She lost to Julie Christie in Darling.