Based on William Edmund Barrett's 1962 novel, producer/director Ralph Nelson's 'Lilies of the Field' tells the story of African American handyman Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier) and his encounter with a group of Eastern European nuns. He comes upon their farm in the Arizona desert through an act of fate, or the will of God according to the order's leader Mother Maria (Lilia Skala), in search of water for his car.
Understandably, Mother Maria thinks Homer, or Schmidt as the nuns call him, is an answer to their prayers. She asks him to fix the roof, which he is willing to do for pay. At suppertime, Homer (and the audience) sees how meager the nuns' lives are when they serve him a meal that is not very filling. He helps them learn English and then stays the night, under the presumption he is going to get paid in the morning.
However, Mother Maria has a plan. At first, she talks him into performing other jobs around the farm, and then she reveals her ultimate goal: getting Homer to build a chapel so the local people, mainly comprised of poor Mexicans, won't have to travel so far to worship. Although he had dreamed of being an architect, he couldn't afford to go to school so he declines the offer. That is until a construction contractor, Ashton (Ralph Nelson in an uncredited role), calls him "Boy" and scoffs at the idea. Homer decides to show Ashton and himself that he can do it.
That scene was the first and only bit of overt racism in the story, which is interesting considering what was occurring elsewhere in America in 1963 when the film was released. In Birmingham, Alabama, photographs and newsreels showed police officers using fire hoses and dogs against African Americans and members of the Ku Klux Klan killed four girls when they bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. In Mississippi, Medgar Evers was assassinated. Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington and gave his "I Have a Dream" speech.
I am very curious if the country's racial turmoil contributed in any way to Academy voters honoring Poitier with the very first Best Actor Oscar given to an African American. Rather than the traditional winners where an actor is clearly acting in a showy, over-the-top performance or by portraying an afflicted character, Poitier's Homer is a subtle creation that reveals a man is a man no matter his skin color.
The plot of 'Lilies of the Field' moves along at a brisk pace and the main characters deal with little conflict in achieving, which is my only complaint. It's a feel-good movie with an ending that comes as no surprise. While there is certainly an audience for that, I would have preferred greater challenges in order to make their resolutions more satisfying.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Twilight Time presents 'Lilies of the Field' comes on a 50GB Region Free Blu-ray disc housed in a clear keepcase. The booklet features liner notes by Julie Kirgo. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.66:1. Ernest Haller's cinemtography delivers great contrast throughout thanks to the rich blacks and bright whites. A wide spectrum of grays can also be seen. The image delivers good depth and objects appear sharp as texture detail comes through..
Natural film grain is noticeable. It increases when Mother Maria dictates a letter, and also in shits that include the sky. The print looks clean for the most part but occasionally white specks appear. In one scene after Homer leaves where the nuns are walking outside, a bit of banding appears along the horizon. The video appears free of major artifacts.
The audio is available in DTS-HD MA 1.0. The dialogue is always clear and understandable. It's obvious Poitier was dubbed during when the character sings. Jester Hairston, who composed the song "Amen" sung in the film had the honors.
Legendary film composer Jerry Goldsmith's score rings through with great clarity, and naturally, sounds more robust on the isolated track. Although the soundtrack may not seem to have a wide dynamic range due to limited loud noises, the quiet end comes through well as heard in the soft sounds of Homer walking across dirt.
'Lilies of the Field' is a pleasant film that tells a story about humanity's inherent goodness. Fans of the film and of Sidney Poitier will certainly want to get a copy of Twilight Time's limited release. This HD presentation delivers a pleasing black and white picture and adequate sound. Recommended.