Sunday 9 January 2022

Movie Review: Lilies Of The Field (1963)

A drama with some humour, Lilies Of The Field is a warm-hearted story combining the kindness of strangers with the passion of religious belief.

In arid Arizona, traveling independent contractor Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier) stops at the rustic farm run by the stern Mother Maria (Lilia Skala) and her four nuns from Eastern Europe. He just wants water for his car and to be on his way, by Maria believes Homer was sent by God to help her build a chapel for the community. Although the nuns have no money, no materials, and barely any food for their guest, Maria manages to convince him to stay every time he threatens to depart.

Homer helps the nuns learn English and secures a part-time job with a local contractor, and meets members of the community forced to hold their Sunday mass in a dusty parking lot. He gets to work on the chapel project, and the ragtag collection of area farmers unite to help.

It's impossible not to love the innocent charm of Lilies Of The Field. Directed by Ralph Nelson from a James Poe script (adapting a book by William Edmund Barrett), this is a simple, almost slight story that gets by on attitude and a child-like trust in positive outcomes. The black and white cinematography carries echoes of a more innocent era, Smith's skin colour is barely a topic of conversation, and the song Amen is both an ear-worm and a unifying theme between contractor and nuns.

While the proud Smith and the authoritarian Maria lock horns throughout, their low-key skirmishes can only have one outcome when God is on her side. And so the plot rides a singular rail from his arrival to the denouement, every obstacle overcome through good natured good-will. As Smith warms up to the chapel-building project, he recognizes an opportunity to deliver his life's signature project. But another spiritual lesson awaits within the power - and importance - of sharing and the community working together to own a common objective.

In a small cast otherwise filled with unknowns, Sidney Poitier dominates every scene, creating the centre of gravity with his customary dignity here mixed with humorous exasperation. It's not easy to suddenly be designated God's utility man, and Poitier gives Smith licence to push against the edges of his divine purpose. Lilies Of The Field fulfils its mission with a sly wink, the whole greater than the individual bricks.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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