Pressure Point (1962)


(director/writer: Hubert Cornfield; screenwriters: S. Lee Pogostin/from the short story Fifty-Minute Hour by Robert Lindner; cinematographer: Ernest Haller; editor: Frederic Knudtson; music: Ernest Gold; cast: Sidney Poitier (Chief Psychiatrist), Bobby Darin (Patient), Peter Falk (Young psychiatrist), Carl Benton Reid (Chief medical officer), James Anderson (Father); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Stanley Krame; United Artists; 1962)


“Mostly dull except when the volatile Darin was on the screen and created real tension.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This film marks the second teaming of director Stanley Kramer and actor Sidney Poitier, their first being in the 1958 The Defiant Ones. It’s an intense psychological drama built around a flashback that’s based on a true case from Dr. Robert Lindner’s Fifty-Minute Hour. The film purposely uses no names in an effort to emphasize the roles one plays symbolically in society such as doctor and patient, father and son, or black and white man. It tells what happens when someone unstable gets pushed to the pressure point.

Pressure Point opens as psychiatrist Peter Falk complains to the hospital’s gray-haired Negro chief psychiatrist (Sidney Poitier) that he can’t get through to his hostile Negro patient because he hates whites and that he should be replaced with one of the two Negro psychiatrists on the staff. This prompts the chief to relate a case that was similar back in 1942, when he workedas a young prison psychiatrist during the war in a federal penitentiary and was forced to treat a white racist and Nazi sympathizer (Bobby Darin) held on sedition charges.

The heart of the film has Poitier dealing with the hostile patient’s sleep disorder and blackouts and discovers a history as an abusive child at the hands of his butcher father, who rejected his boy and was the reason his hatred mushroomed. The shrink unravels how sick Darin is and if not treated for all his psychological wounds and projected hatred against blacks and Jews, there would be serious problems in the future. After the three year sentence Darin is released without further treatment, even though Poitier believes this is a big mistake and turns down his parole bid. But Poitier is overturned by the prison authorities. It results in the untreated Darin hanged ten years later for murdering an elderly man (another father-authority symbol that he hated). The pep talk convinces Falk to not quit on his patient.

It makes for a murky narrative that weighs melodramatically into an inspirational themed film. The film was heavily message orientated and mostly dull except when the volatile Darin was on the screen and created real tension. Despite winning an Oscar nomination for his role in the 1963 “Captain Newman MD,” Darin’s much better in this one but comes up empty as far as awards go. Underrated writer-director Hubert Cornfield (“The Night of the Following Day”) does a fine job keeping it as an intelligent presentation that never slips into exploitation territory or wavers from its viewpoint favoring tolerance as the best way to handle bigots.