Lilies of the Field (1963)

lilies

Starring: Sidney Poitier, Lilia Skala, Lisa Mann, Stanley Adams

Director: Ralph Nelson

Summary: An itinerant handyman in the Southwest gets a new outlook on life when he helps a group of German nuns build a chapel

Other Nominations: Actor (Poitier)*, Supporting Actress (Skala), Adapted Screenplay, B&W Cinematography

Positives

-This is a remarkably refreshing Best Picture nominee for this time period: it’s a simple and sweet story that lasts 94 minutes, had a microscopic budget ($1.9 million adjusted for inflation) and shooting took 14 days. In the hands of different people, this could have ended up as a very mediocre sweet life-affirming family movie (ex: The Blind Side, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, McFarland USA), but instead it feels very genuine and never gets to the point of being saccharine or having expository dialogue about the lessons everybody learned at the end. It’s a good example of show don’t tell in that people grow as characters, but most of it requires the audience to make some basic inferences about motivations and attitudes based on the information that comes up organically in the story vs. them just outright saying “this is why I am the way I am or why I am doing this thing.”

-Poitier was the first African-American to win a lead actor/actress Oscar and even if he has had better performances, you can see why he won for this: he’s very charming and likeable, and he plays an extremely safe role that isn’t going to rock any boats or challenge anything. Skala is not a Supporting Actress at all and is clearly the lead, but deserved a nomination for her performance as a pushy older nun who lived a rough life.

-This is one of Jerry Goldsmith’s earliest film scores and I liked it a lot, with its heavy use of the harmonica and horns.

Negatives

-Every once in awhile, the movie feels like slows down a bit too much or takes its sweet time to get to the next major thing that happens. It’s not that big a negative considering the pacing fits the general atmosphere, but I have my tastes after all.

-Building off that last point, while I found this movie to be an easy watch, I tend to like movies with a least some kind of edge to them and other than maybe Poitiers performance, it wasn’t that memorable for me.

Overall

If you like lighter, life-affirming movies, possibly with religious themes, then this is a really great one and is clearly a step above other similar types of movies. If that isn’t something you generally seek out (like me), it’s still good but it probably won’t be one of your favorites.

Rating: B

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