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MGM Studios DVD presents
Lilies of the Field (1963)

"I'm just passin' through."
- Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: March 11, 2001

Stars: Sidney Poitier, Lilia Skala
Other Stars: Lisa Mann, Isa Crino, Francesca Jarvis, Pamela Branch, Stanley Adams
Director: Ralph Nelson

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suitable for all audiences)
Run Time: 01h:34m:33s
Release Date: March 06, 2001
UPC: 027616858962
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-A-B+ D

DVD Review

Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier) is poor, unemployed, and living out of his car. By pure chance, he meets five struggling Eastern European nuns who eat little and don't even have a chapel for praying. It is nearly obvious from the beginning that the stern Mother Maria (Lilia Skala) cannot pay him for the work, but he starts building the chapel anyway. Why does a man who can't afford a home take on this tremendous task? The answer lies in the Homer Smith character, who is perfectly realized in a wonderful performance from Poitier.

Based on the novel by William E. Barrett, Lilies of the Field is a fairly simple movie with only a few major characters, basic sets, and a small story concerning a chapel. However, it succeeds and immediately draws the audience into the lives of these characters. Homer is a drifter who wanders the earth in a beat-up car searching for a job. In actuality, he's also searching for something to believe in - a task that will give greater meaning to his life. Poitier (who won an Oscar¨ for this performance) continues to add elements to his character as the story progresses, and this keeps him interesting and understandable. When Homer grows frustrated with the nuns and drives away, we can recognize his motivations for this action. During each progressive scene, the layers are pulled off this character to reveal the genuine and kind young man underneath.

The central and binding relationship occurs between Homer and Mother Maria. She is a stubborn woman who ignores the information that she doesn't want to hear. When Homer asks for money or tells her they need bricks, she quickly moves to the next subject and moves on to other issues. What makes this relationship interesting is the inner struggles that she hides between the firm facade. While Homer keeps trying to convince himself to leave, Mother Maria tries to maintain hope that he'll stay. Through their arguments and compromises, they form an unlikely bond that carries the film.

Lilies of the Field is also intriguing in terms of the predominant film culture at the time of its release. African-Americans seldom starred in major motion pictures, and Sidney Poitier was a significant exception at the time. While this movie hardly touches on the race issue (except for a laugh), it does represent a nice mix of cultures. Homer, the Eastern-European nuns, and the Spanish workers are all treated with respect and given equal footing in the story. In fact, the main object for ridicule is the Anglo-Saxon construction owner. While this obviously was a safe film for white audiences to enjoy in 1963, it still represents an impressive step by placing an African-American in the lead role. Poitier makes him a full-fledged character, with thoughts, dreams, and considerable abilities.

One could criticize this film for its mostly lighthearted take on the subjects of poverty and religion. While the nuns are struggling to survive, this is nothing on the level of The Grapes of Wrath. However, its less serious tone is one of the highlights of this story, as it reveals interesting characters without becoming heavy-handed or overly melodramatic. Anchored by a classic performance from Sidney Poitier, is a well-written, enjoyable film that shines with a positive message.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Lilies of the Field features one of the best black-and-white DVD transfers of recent years. The images are bright and clear, with an excellent level of sharpness. The transfer comes in the 1.66:1 nonanamorphic widescreen format, and it helps to accentuate the power of this story. Even the nicer black-and-white discs usually contain a significant amount of dirt and slight blemishes on the print. I noticed virtually no defects on this transfer of any kind. Despite being nonanamorphic, MGM deserves recognition for giving this enjoyable film a fine digital treatment. (I'll stay out of the anamorphic an 1.66:1 argument here.)

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Dialogue covers much of this story, but a few moments do utilize more elements of the audio transfer. The best scenes involve the singing interludes with Homer and the nuns. Even within the limits of the mono track, their harmonized voices sound excellent. While the audio obviously remains fairly centralized, it once again improves over many of the transfers from this time period.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This is a bare-bones release from MGM, and it includes the theatrical trailer as the lone extra on the disc.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Lilies of the Field works because it creates full-fledged characters who inhabit an enjoyable, mostly positive society where miracles do occur. While this disc would have benefited from extra features, it does contain a pristine black-and-white widescreen transfer and nice sound to complement the uplifting story.


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