(director: John Cassavetes; screenwriter: story by Abby Mann; cinematographer: Joseph La Shelle; editors: Gene Fowler Jr./Robert C. Jones; music: Ernest Gold; cast: Burt Lancaster (Dr. Matthew Clark), Judy Garland (Jean Hansen), Gena Rowlands (Sophie Widdicombe/Benham), Steven Hill (Ted Widdicombe), Bruce Ritchey (Reuben Widdicombe), Gloria McGehee (Mattie, Teacher), Paul Stewart (Goodman), Lawrence Tierney (Douglas Benham, second husband of Widdicombe), Elizabeth Wilson (Miss Fogarty), John Marley (Holland); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Stanley Kramer; United Artists; 1962)


“The film ran into trouble with Cassavetes’s attempt to bring his unconventional improvisational style to the shoot.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Cassavetes’ (“Too Late Blues”) second feature as a director is a straightforward solid social service drama, without his usual avant-garde twists. It’s told in a cinema verite semi-documentary style. It’s based on the intelligent but not that powerful script by Abby Mann (“Judgment of Nuremberg”). Burt Lancaster is excellent playing the psychologist Dr. Matthew Clark, who is the director of Crawthorne State Mental Hospital (modeled the film’s school on the highly regarded Vineland Training School in New Jersey). One of Lancaster’s own children is such a troubled child and he had a strong personal interest in the subject matter. Judy Garland gives a sincere performance as the do-gooder inexperienced teacher who believes love is all that matters, and even though she was going through a difficult period of her life and was drinking heavily her performance was powerful. Except for Bruce Ritchey (Reuben Widdicombe), the children in the film were all patients at the Pacific State Hospital in Pomona, California.

The film ran into trouble with Cassavetes’s attempt to bring his unconventional improvisational style to the shoot, which were at odds with Kramer’s beliefs and didn’t go over with either Garland or Lancaster who weren’t comfortable with his unconventional approach to the film. Things came to a head during the final editing when an argument over what to include in the film resulted in Kramer firing Cassavetes. The film was finished by Kramer and the film’s editor Gene Fowler, Jr., which prompted Cassavetes to disown it. Watching the film when released, Cassavetes commented “I didn’t think his film – and that’s what I consider it to be, his film – was so bad, just a lot more sentimental than mine.”

The film picks up with the arrival to the institute of the reluctant retarded child Reuben. Two years later the newly hired thirtysomething unattached teacher, Jean Hansen (Judy Garland), who is an ex-pianist searching for meaning in her life, becomes touched by the 12-year-old Reuben’s craving for affection and becomes obsessively attached to the child when learning his mom Sophie Widdicombe (Gena Rowlands), recently remarried to a lawyer (Lawrence Tierney), never visits him. Clark is disturbed that Hansen’s excessive attention to Reuben will upset the other children and challenges her behavior. Hansen frets that Clark’s methods are too stern. So it goes, as the drama is only flawed by the occasional uninviting didactic tone it takes.

REVIEWED ON 7/7/2006 GRADE: B  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/