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BOY WITH GREEN HAIR, THE(director: Joseph Losey; screenwriters: Ben Barzman/Alfred Lewis Levitt/from story by Betsy Beaton; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: Frank Doyle; music: Leigh Harline; cast: Pat O’Brien (Gramp), Robert Ryan (Dr. Evans), Barbara Hale (Miss Brand), Dean Stockwell (Peter Frye, boy), Richard Lyon (Michael), Walter Catlett (The King), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Knudson), Regis Toomey (Mr. Davis); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Stephen Ames/Dore Schary; RKO; 1948)
“Strikes a false note.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Blacklisted in 1951 filmmaker Joseph Losey’s (“The Prowler”/”Time Without Pity”/”The Servant”) feature-film debut as director is this arty childhood drama. It’s based on the story by Betsy Beaton and written by Ben Barzman and Alfred Lewis Levitt.

The well-intentioned film, however, strikes a false note, as it brings on a far-fetched allegory on war and racism built around a tale of a war orphan boy who finds his life is ruined after his parents die during the London Blitz and he soon discovers that his hair turned green. Given no explanation by doctors and being ridiculed by his peers, he runs away from his relative’s home.

The film opens with a bald-headed 12-year-old boy (Dean Stockwell) in the police station refusing to give his name. He’s soon questioned by the kindly psychologist Dr. Evans (Robert Ryan), who is able to find out that the boy’s name is Peter Frye. The boy then tells his strange tale. After his parents were killed, he’s shuffled off to live with a number of relatives. He’s finally unloaded on the garrulous Gramp Frye (Pat O’Brien), an Irish-born widower and former vaudevillian and magician, working at night as a singing waiter, living in a small town. After taking a bath one night, the boy discovers that his hair has turned green and when he ventures outside he’s not accepted.

The film turns at this point awkward as it ventures off into giving a lecture on tolerance and uses artificial devices (meeting boys from war-orphan posters) to go through a lot of trouble to show how cruel people can be in their biases and that war is not too cool. That the fantasy film is so daffy brings it down, but it also elevates it with a certain ridiculous charm that makes it a watchable oddity.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”