Whimsical and charming, yet fortified with a sober, affecting message, The Boy with Green Hair reminds us what a horrible toll war takes on its littlest victims and the indelible scars it leaves. Director Joseph Losey's sensitive film boasts a fine cast led by pint-sized Dean Stockwell, who files a natural, winning portrayal in the title role. A beautiful transfer struck from a 4K scan of the original Technicolor camera negatives, remastered audio, and a rare Stockwell short make this another stellar Blu-ray entry in Warner Archive's classics collection. Recommended.
The Boy with Green Hair will never achieve the same level of renown and affection as such time-honored family classics as The Wizard of Oz, National Velvet, and The Yearling, but it deserves more respect than it gets. Though director Joseph Losey's tender film is best remembered for young Dean Stockwell's fluorescent green locks, the story contains far more substance than the sci-fi-like title might suggest. Such timeless themes as intolerance, bullying, and the horrors of war pervade this simple, cautionary tale that still strikes a chord in today's turbulent, often unstable world.
As the movie opens, a wandering, withdrawn boy with a shaved head is picked up by police and brought to the local station to be interviewed by Dr. Evans (Robert Ryan), a psychologist who hopes to find out why the youngster has strayed from home. Peter (Stockwell) slowly opens up to the doctor and recounts how his parents' deaths in World War II left him an orphan. After shuffling between the homes of various relatives, all of whom found excuses why they couldn't raise him, he comes to live with Gramp (Pat O'Brien), an aged actor who nurtures him.
One day, after learning in school about the tragedy of war orphans in Europe, Peter is shocked to discover that his hair has turned green following a shampoo in his bath. The green hair ostracizes him from his schoolmates, who bully him because he doesn’t fit in. Peter even makes the townspeople uncomfortable and incurs their wrath as well. To escape the abuse, Peter runs into the woods, where he encounters the disabled and distraught European war orphans he saw on a poster at school., They open his eyes to their struggles and beseech him to warn others that war should never happen again.
Peter takes their words to heart and becomes an ardent anti-war activist...or as much of an activist as a preteen boy can be in a small rural town in 1948. Though his vigilance only intensifies the prejudices of those around him, Peter will not be deterred and proudly wears his green hair to call attention to his movement.
The Boy with Green Hair is a curious yet charming film that preaches an important message. Losey, in his directorial debut, hammers that message home, but wisely tempers it with a winning whimsicality. The script never explains why Peter’s hair turns green or what it means (I'm guessing green symbolizes peace and fertility) and the low-key ending lacks impact, but despite such faults, this quiet movie resonates and features fine performances.
The pint-sized Stockwell easily carries The Boy with Green Hair on his slight shoulders, projecting myriad emotions without a hint of affectation. Peter is a tricky part, but even at the tender age of 12 Stockwell possesses the sensitivity to navigate the vagaries of the strange phenomenon that befalls him. One of the few child actors to achieve notable success as an adult, Stockwell shows what he's made of here and proves he's far more than a cute kid.
O'Brien, best known for playing legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne, began transitioning into character parts in the late 1940s and he brings compassion, warmth, and some jaunty humor to the role of Gramp. Ryan and Hale (who the following year would play a focal role in another movie built around a young boy, the classic film noir The Window), do what they can with minor parts, and classics fans will surely spot Samuel S. Hinds (James Stewart's father in It's a Wonderful Life) and the ubiquitous Regis Toomey in brief bits.
Despite the efforts of Peter and an army of global anti-war activists over the past 70 years, war remains a constant worry in many areas of the world in our current day and age, and the tragic events in Ukraine concerning children especially remind us just how relevant The Boy with Green Hair still is. Though the film's execution isn't perfect and the story occasionally sputters, its heart is in the right place, and its important themes demand reflection. If only there were more little boys like Peter, the world might be a safer and more harmonious place.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Boy with Green Hair arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
A new HD master struck from a 4K scan of the original Technicolor camera negatives yields another eye-popping 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer from Warner Archive. Once again, Warner nails a Technicolor transfer, producing an image that looks sumptuous yet natural and faithfully honors the cinematography of George Barnes, who won an Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca. The film-like picture features a natural grain structure, excellent clarity and contrast, and a fair amount of depth.
Green, of course, is the predominant hue, but aside from Stockwell's fluorescent wig that lights up the screen, the blades of grass and tree foliage appear appropriately lush. The vibrant colors during the jaunty song sequence, especially O'Brien's powder blue jacket, dazzle the senses, as does Hale's bold red lipstick. No nicks, marks, or scratches dot the pristine print, and though a few shots exhibit some softness and a bit of fading, they never detract from the very impressive whole. Though I don't own the 2009 DVD, I can't imagine The Boy with Green Hair looking any better than it does here. Fans are in for a treat.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track supplies clear, well-modulated sound. The Boy with Green Hair is a rather quiet film, but a wide dynamic scale handles all the highs and lows of the popular song "Nature Boy," which is performed by a choir over the main titles, as well as the music score by Leigh Harline, who won Oscars for both the score of Walt Disney's Pinocchio and its signature song "When You Wish Upon a Star." All the dialogue is easy to comprehend and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle break the story's spell.
The only extra on the disc is the nine-minute 1947 short A Really Important Person, which also stars Stockwell as a boy who enters an essay contest with the titular topic and decides to write about his dad. In addition to Stockwell, who files a typically heartwarming performance, Golden Age fans will recognize the fine character actress Connie Gilchrist as Stockwell's mother. The film is also noteworthy as the debut of screenwriter Harriet Frank, Jr., who would go on to earn Oscar nominations for Hud and Norma Rae.
A simple tale with a powerful anti-war message, The Boy with Green Hair showcases the talent of a young Dean Stockwell, who tackles the quirky, endearing title role with aplomb. Director Joseph Losey's film peters out toward the end, but adopts a sincere tone that keeps us engaged throughout. Warner Archive's gorgeous transfer struck from a 4K scan of the original Technicolor camera negatives and remastered audio revitalize this family film that's definitely worth rediscovering. Recommended.