Monday, May 16, 2016

the feel-bad movie of all time

Shelley Winters routinely abusing poor Elizabeth Hartman, whose character is blind, in "A Patch of Blue." Awful film.

In an earlier essay titled joe’s dreaded genre, I confessed that as much as I regard and respect animals (or, possibly, because I respect animals), I don't like films about animals.  These movies are always sad, often grueling to watch, and rarely ends well for the animal in question.

"Born Free."  "Old Yeller."  All of MGM's "Lassie" movies.  These can leave me depressed for weeks.  So I avoid them.  Ususally. I made an exception with David Frankel's 2008 “Marley and Me,” a great film about the life of a dog, from puppyhood to death. Still, Marley died. Funny, I have no problem or qualms whatsoever watching any human die on screen.

However...

Yes, however.  I become equally depressed by films in which humans are bullied or abused without surcease or any purpose, simply for the sake of being cruel. There are three in particular which put me in a foul mood and all of them are about the careless, often sadistic treatment of women.

One is William Fruet's 1972 Canadian film, "Wedding in White," starring a repellent Donald Pleasence as the nasty drunk-father of downtrodden Carol Kane who has just been raped - and subsequently impregnated - by his best friend, also a drunk. Kane is represented symbolically by the poor dog (unseen, thank goodness) that her father keeps chained in their cellar.

Another is actress-turned-filmmaker Joan Chen's "Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl" ("Tian yu") of 1998, about a teenage girl with dreams who is lied to and sent to remote area where she is kept indefinitely and essentially finessed into prostitution (but without the pay).  It's a well-made, ugly film.

But the worst, hands-down, is Guy Green's "A Patch of Blue" (1965), in which the lovely Elizabeth Hartman made her film debut as a young blind woman who is ruthlessly abused not only but her mother (Shelley Winters at her most strident and dislikable), but also by her sleazy grandfather (Wallace Ford), disconcertingly called "Ole Pa," and by the mother's awful best friend (Elisabeth Fraser).  Saintly Sidney Poitier is also in this but his niceness is overshadowed by the vile Winters-Ford-Fraser triumvirate.

A recent screening of "A Patch of Blue" on Turner Classic Movies, where it has become a staple, reminded me of just how abhorrent this film is.

9 comments:

Sheila said...

Joe! For years, I robotically watched "A Patch of Blue" - because it's a so-called prestige film that won Hartman a well-deserved Oscar nomination. I never realized how much I didn't like it until I read this piece. I always came away vaguely unsatisfied but would go back and watch it again. (I'm a Turner die-hard.) I'm glad someone finally said it. It's an ugly film indeed.

Eliza said...

I'll be the contrarian. I saw this as a young teenager and, like many movies of its kind, it serves as our "foil," making us realize that our lives aren't so terrible after all, despite how we feel as adolescents.

joe baltake said...

Great point, Eliza. Thanks. Gives me a different perspective on such films.

Alex said...

"Johnny Belinda"! Another well-regarded film that's tough to watch.

Kiki said...

My feelings exactly about the feel bad movies (I couldn't deal with Marley and Me even when it came on TV). But boy, I remember Patch of Blue. I saw it when I was living in NYC. It gave me a vascular headache.
Kathy Bates is one of my favorites(I always liked Winters too) and I was thinking how many roles Winters did that Bates could do. And vice versa. Particularly the one where James Caan gets tortured. Or A Place in the Sun. They can be horrid or heartbreakingly vulnerable. I'll watch any movie with Kathy Bates but Cherie was hard slogging.

joe baltake said...

I like them both, too, and you’re right – they can be horrid and/or heartbreaking. Winters in “What’s the Matter with Helen?” (with Debbie Reynolds) is a hoot.

Kiki said...

Kathy Bates in Revolutionary Road . . . and About Schmidt . . . she elevates any production she is in. Her guest shots on shows like Six Feet Under . . . I could go on and on. I know she was in several episodes of 2 1/2 Men but much as I love her, I hate the sight of Charlie Sheen and that other guy more.

Charlotte said...

Joe- Re, the Joan Chen movie, when a woman is forced into prostitution without pay, she is sex slave, plain and simple.

joe baltake said...

Yes, Charlotte, that's obvious and I should have acknowledged that. I employed the wrong word. Thanks for the heads-up.