As a new year begins there is the usual analysis on television talk shows and cable news programs about whether or not we've made any progress in the past twelve months regarding race relations, civility (or the lack of it) in politics, what has become acceptable on social media networks and what movies are up for the usual award nominations. I don't believe I have to rehash what we've all endured or witnessed in 2013. While some things have improved I don't feel good about the lack civility or courtesy exhibited by many public figures. The level of rhetoric in many areas has hit a new low and nasty remarks about race, religious affiliations or the latest political scandal are rampant no matter where we look. Has this on-going theme been the subject of films? I would offer a resounding yes as movies have been the standard by which much public opinion (and resulting debates) have ensued over the years. The 1960's was one of the most turbulent and life-changing decades in United States history as the civil rights era was in full swing, the war in Vietnam was at its height and political turmoil, including three major assassinations of public men and the election of a controversial President, reached into every facet of American life. Several films have dealt with these and other aspects of our turbulent times but today's column will reach down through flashbacks and try to give us examples of attitudes and speech that may still be with us. It's a somewhat obscure, but no less important film, Pressure Point, (1962) starring Sidney Poitier and Bobby Darin.
The movie begins in 1962 in a prison as Poitier, as the Doctor, is discussing another psychiatrist's (you'll recognize Peter Falk in pre-Columbo days) difficulties with his patient; that doctor wants the patient assigned to another staff member while Poitier tells him he had a similar problem twenty years before during World War II. Poitier was a young psychiatrist newly assigned to the prison and he has just been given a new prisoner played by Bobby Darin. Darin (the Patient) has been arrested for inciting sedition and violence against the United States along with being a Nazi sympathizer. His views are right out of Mein Kampf and he is a staunch supporter of all things German and Adolf Hitler. He brags about his attendance at the famous Nazi Party rally held in Madison Square Garden and the marches in New York City in the 1930's. But once America was entered in the war most of these people were rounded up, jailed or returned to Germany. Darin's character might make one think of the modern-day Aryan Brotherhood and similar organizations which flourish inside penitentiaries. His views of the Doctor are definitely not favorable.
We begin to see a definite pattern as Poitier counsels him to reveal his early childhood years, bullied and victimized by an alcoholic father and a weak mother. As a child, he joins a group and learns to bully weaker kids as a method of overcoming his own insecurities. This carries him into young adulthood where his sociopathic tendencies move him inexorably towards joining the American Nazi Party with its attending racial hatreds, uniforms and rallies. There are flashbacks of his fighting with people in bars just for the fun of it. The Patient's obvious lack of concern for anyone but himself drives him to acts of violence while eventually attracting attention of the police. He feels he's invincible and doesn't care about going to jail. He is arrested and winds up in the same prison where Poitier's character works.
The idea of seeing an African-American psychiatrist, a rarity in the 1940's, treating a more-than-obvious hater may have been used as a subtle method of viewing the then-current civil rights struggle in 1962. How society treated and viewed its minority citizens was a topic of much debate and writings then – and now. Fifty years later, we have seen many changes in society, especially in politics, where African-Americans are concerned. But in 1962, as in so many years past, the movies were a great way to mirror and comment on society's ills and trials. Bobby Darin's character was not an aberration of the 1940's as the Jim Crow segregation system in the South and the less obvious, but no-less-powerful, methods of keeping blacks out of mainstream society in the North, were commonplace. He represents all the ills of America then and now. Today there are so many avenues for communicating to more and more people almost instantaneously for good or evil.
The Doctor stakes his job and reputation by stating unequivocally that the Patient should not be released back into society even though he's been a "model" prisoner throughout his incarceration. The Doctor sees and understands the insidious visions Darin has lived by and retained throughout his life; he will simply do it all again once outside the prison's walls. The Patient's hatreds aren't merely the obvious targets of Nazi propaganda, like Jews and others; no, he wants to eliminate all the poor and downtrodden masses as his "Ubermensch" ("Superman") heroes drive forward to take over the world. In reality, the United States had pretty much eliminated the threat by 1943 (including real German spies captured after landing on beaches in Long Island and Florida) by arresting the Bund members and disbanding them. But Poitier sees the underlying dangers of people like Darin and vows to fight against his release back into society. We all know the horrifying results of six years of war and the ultimate deaths of millions upon millions of innocent people.
The final session between the Doctor and the Patient lets the audience see how passionate both men are about their respective views of society. I do enjoy Poitier as the Doctor slowly, but strongly, explains to Darin that there is something in America that will eventually appear and eliminate people like the Patient and his views. That we will only tolerate the hatred and venom for a while but sooner or later the better parts of America will destroy its worse parts. A free society allows for good and evil to exist side-by-side, in a constant see-saw battle for attention, until the evil tries to take over everything else. Today's society has more people and organizations constantly trying to get attention, adherents and money for their ideologies and programs. The weight of influence of many of these outlets seems staggering. But somehow the truth always comes to the surface and if there's a bad side to these influences it will be made public and hopefully eliminated.
Sidney Poitier gives a measured, intelligent and insightful performance as the Doctor. Bobby Darin, a most popular and talented entertainer, joined the ranks of those singers and comedians who could truly act convincingly as this movie exhibits his gifts.
Pressure Point was not a rousing box-office success, maybe because its themes were talking about the then-current struggles seen every day in newspapers and on television. World War II's end was less than twenty years before the movie premiered and America was trying to forget much of it and get back to normal. But a new world was emerging and this was one of those movies trumpeting the dawn of a new age.
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Jan 23, 2014 12:18 AM
|Very thorough examination of a difficult film.You couldn't make a film like that one without homogenizing the story and wrapping it up in a pretty pink bow so the audience would get their Hollywood Ending.|
We need to see more of how social issues were portrayed when we were adult enough to handle it.
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My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).|
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