Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon

By Aram Goudsouzian | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
CROSSROADS
(1965–1966)

After six years of hype, almost two years after Poitier filmed his cameo, The Greatest Story Ever Told premiered in February 1965. Despite the $20 million cost, including an expensive new single-lens Cinerama technique, producer-director George Stevens demanded a subdued advertising campaign based on the picture’s prestige. He won endorsements from major political figures; Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey, Earl Warren, and Dean Rusk attended various exhibitions. Martin Luther King went to a special Los Angeles screening to raise money for the SCLC.1

For years Stevens had insisted on avoiding the elaborate staging and sexual innuendo of Cecil B. DeMille–style biblical epics. At that he succeeded: The Greatest Story Ever Told is a reverent, restrained take on the Gospels. Jesus Christ, played by Max von Sydow, is solemn and godly. The Utah landscape is striking, and a prayerful mood suffuses the picture from birth to rebirth. That interpretation induced some into lavish praise: “a memorable film,” “a classic, timeless picture,” even “the most majestic production the screen will ever have in the time and scope of current dimensions.” On the strength of these reviews, support from religious and film organizations, and a series of cameos—including John Wayne, Shelley Winters, and Charlton Heston—the picture did well at the box office.2

But many critics trashed the film, and justifiably so. The New Yorker labeled it “a disaster … neatened and prettified and simultaneously blown up and diminished to the point where, if the subject matter weren’t sacred in origin, we would be responding to the picture in the most charitable way possible by laughing at it from start to finish.” The action is minimal, the dialogue stilted, the cameos excessive, the mood selfimportantly sanctimonious. Worst of all, the film is long—“3 hours and 41 minutes of impeccable boredom,” not counting the ten-minute inter-

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Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Poverty and Progress 5
  • Chapter 1 - Patches (1927–1943) 7
  • Chapter 2 - Great Migrations (1943–1945) 25
  • Chapter 3 - Stages (1945–1949) 43
  • Part II - Race Man 61
  • Chapter 4 - Message Movies (1949–1952) 63
  • Chapter 5 - Black Lists (1951–1954) 84
  • Chapter 6 - Threats (1955–1957) 103
  • Chapter 7 - Noble Savages (1956–1957) 123
  • Part III - Black Man's Burden 143
  • Chapter 8 - Decisions (1957–1959) 145
  • Chapter 9 - Burdens (1959–1961) 167
  • Chapter 10 - Blues (1960–1962) 189
  • Chapter 11 - Long Journeys (1963–1964) 208
  • Part IV - Alone in the Penthouse 229
  • Chapter 12 - Crossroads (1965–1966) 231
  • Chapter 13 - Useful Negroes (1966–1967) 253
  • Chapter 14 - Last Hurrahs (1967–1968) 277
  • Part V - Through Playing God 313
  • Chapter 15 - Exiles (1967–1971) 315
  • Chapter 16 - Survivors (1972–1978) 337
  • Chapter 17 - Ghosts (1978–2002) 358
  • Appendix : Performances by Sidney Poitier 381
  • Notes 397
  • Bibliography 447
  • Index 467
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