Lilies of the Field (1963)
Directed by Ralph Nelson
Based on the novel by William E. Barrett
Screenplay by James Poe
Starring: Sidney Poitier, Lilia Skala
Homer Smith (Poitier) is a wanderer, a young man looking for ways to make life interesting. As a traveling handyman, Homer inadvertently becomes the answer to the prayers of a small group of nuns living in the desert. Mother Maria (Skala) convinces him to stay, Homer and the nuns begin a strange relationship. As the relationship grows, Homer and Mother Maria continue to battle one another over her particular way of doing things. As they chip away at this barrier both of them seem to grow.
This 1963 film was born from the novel Lilies of the Field, written by William E. Bennett in 1962. Bennett wrote three novels that later became films. In addition to this one, The Left Hand of God and The Wine and the Music were also adapted. James Poe took this novel and wrote the screenplay, which earned him an Oscar nomination. This movie was directed by Ralph Nelson, earning him some recognition when the film was nominated for Best Picture. The small cast of characters features a great star in the form of Hollywood legend Sidney Poitier. In addition, the film also stars Lilia Skala and Stanley Adams.
Sidney Poitier earned his only Oscar for this incredible performance. Not only was it his only competitive win, but it was also the first Best Actor Oscar given to a black actor. His role is a great example of his ability to play the everyman. On the surface his role is straightforward, but he manages to give the character a lot of depth. This performance still stands out today as a great example of acting from a talented man. In addition to Poitier’s success, the film also benefited from the Oscar-nominated performance from Lilia Skala. Her work as Mother Maria is wonderful, and she holds her own opposite Poitier. In many ways her character is the counterbalance to Homer, making the push and pull throughout the movie seem genuine. Her nomination for Best Supporting Actress was well deserved. The rest of the cast does nice work as well, but it’s the relationship between these two actor’s characters that makes this movie work.
The story written for this film is unique and enjoyable. With a small cast and an often intimate setting, the movie makes the most of the characters involved. The dynamics of the relationship between Homer and the nuns really creates a great contrast. The dialogue throughout the movie is fun, allowing the characters to be expressed through the way they talk, but also in the way they sing, joke, and otherwise communicate.
It’s no wonder this movie was nominated for Best Picture. The story is a solid and simple look at the way people can learn from one another. The acting is anchored by one of the many great performances of Sidney Poitier. This is one for the whole family. I would suggest this to anyone and everyone who loves a great story. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.