For, June 13, 2014

Sidney Poitier won the best-actor Oscar for his performance as an itinerant handyman in "Lilies of the Field" (1963, b/w), the first black male actor to win a competition award. (James Baskett won an honorary Oscar in 1948 for "Song of the South.")

Based on the novel by William Edmund Barrett, "Lilies of the Field" has Poitier driving through a remote area of Arizona when he stops for water at a farm. There he encounters a group of European nuns led by a wily Mother Superior (Lilia Skala), the only one who speaks English. (One of the bets running gags has Poitier and Skala verbally sparring with scriptures.)


                Sidney Poitier, Lilia Skala, 'Lilies of the Field'

Initially, Poitier merely lends a hand with a roofing job, then he learns he won't be paid. Despite this, he winds up staying and doing more work, which leads to his building a chapel for the locals who have no facility nearby.

The nuns look upon him as having been sent from God, but Poitier's character, a Baptist, is a bit more cynical, though he warms to both the nuns and the local townfolk.

This is a gentle, easygoing movie, a wonderful little character study that caught on in 1963 through word of mouth, and it's easy to see why, it's a real crowd-pleaser.

And it's no less pleasing in 2014, even though it's in black and white and moves a little slower than most modern films.

"Lilies of the Field" will play as part of the SCERA Center's summer Cinema Classics series, at 10 a.m. next Friday (June 20).