Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO starring Bernie Hamilton and Barbara Barrie

Tuesday's Overlooked Films is a weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. Don't forget to check in later and see what overlooked or forgotten films other bloggers are talking about today. Link.

A big film can have little or no impact beyond the moment. AVATAR was the biggest, glossiest film I've seen in ages - so BIG, in fact, that we felt we needed to see it in the theater even if encumbered by those annoying 3-D glasses. Glasses over glasses in my case.

The film itself was a lot of bright and splashy fun but once I left the theater, I left the film behind. Or I should say, the film left me.

Then there are the little films that stay with you for years - that never quite leave you. Films like, 1964's ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO starring Barbara Barrie and Bernie Hamilton.

For those of you - most of you - who haven't seen ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO, I do recommend this film for daring to handle a very difficult subject (at the time) and for the wonderful acting. Even to have filmed this story back then was a huge accomplishment. But to have made it so real, so 'in the moment' makes something truly special of this heartbreaking story..

ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO (I'm still not sure why this title), directed by Larry Peerce and written by Orville Hampton and Raphael Hayes, is a small, unsentimental film - 83 minutes long -done very much on a shoestring budget. It was filmed on location in and around Painesville, Ohio. (An ironic name if there ever was one.) I remember the starkness of the black and white camerawork, the bleak, un-romantic tone and sense of place. A perfect background for a quietly intense story of love and anguish.

The film made me feel like a voyeur watching something fragile and real. Occasionally I got the feeling we were not supposed to be watching at all. The first half of the film seems a very private thing.

Barbara Barrie  has such a wonderfully gentle screen presence as Julie Cullen, a white woman who has been abandoned by her feckless husband Joe, played by Richard Mulligan. After the divorce, Julie faces a bleak future as a single parent. She struggles to raise their daughter, Ellen, in the small Midwestern town they've recently moved to. When she finds a job at a local plant, Julie meets Frank Richards (Bernie Hamilton) an African American man who works in the office.

Frank is everything Joe was not; responsible, kind, gentle, and caring. Slowly Julie and Frank fall in love and decide, against all odds, to marry.

The courtship is handled nicely by the film makers never forgetting that these are not two racial pioneers wanting to make a 'statement' but just two ordinary people who have fallen in love.

Frank's father is not happy with the situation, though his mother welcomes Julie.

After the wedding, Julie, her daughter Ellen and Frank, move to Frank's parents' farm where, in time, Julie and Frank have a son and Frank's father comes around.

But then, out of the blue, Joe Cullen, Julie's ex, reappears on the scene. (Back from South America where he'd gone to 'find his fortune'.) When he finds out that Julie is married to a black man, he decides to sue for his daughter's custody. An interracial family is no place for Ellen, he claims. Though the child is happy living on the farm with Julie and Frank, her new brother and Frank's parents.

It is the total disregard of his daughter's security and happiness by Joe Cullen, that makes this second half of the film so difficult to watch. He is vindictive, selfish and prejudiced but he represents the view of the majority in the early sixties where interracial marriage or even, dating, was looked upon with distaste and disapproval - in some states, it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry.

The judge presiding over the case can see for himself that Julie's daughter Ellen is a well adjusted and happy child, but he feels he must take into account, the dim view of society when deciding the outcome of the custody trial.

The court claims to want what's best for Ellen.


  1. Sounds like an excellent movie with a great script and cast dealing with bad times and intolerant people, including judges who should have known better. (I know this movie will make me angry so I have to decide if I should see it or not.)

    It was only in 1967 that the U.S. Supreme Court banned all state laws against interracial marriage. That was in the Loving case, where two people fell in love in Virginia and the woman was jailed; she was Black.
    Then they fled to D.C. and got married. Their case was taken by the ACLU to the Supreme Court which found for the most appropriately named couple, the Lovings. Their case is known nationally as the Loving case.

  2. Kathy: A movie can leave you sad and upset. But sometimes the movie needs to be seen anyway.

    If only to show the devastation that society can cause an individual.

    In this movie, the family is told to leave the state if they wanted to keep their daughter.

    But Frank decides to fight in court for his and Julie's rights as American citizens.

  3. I remember randomly catching this movie a year or so ago. It was sad but told very well and in a wonderfully simple way.

    I also caught The Loving Story at the Tribeca film festival this year. It was really good. From what I understand is that it will out on HBO this upcoming February.

  4. Your affection for this little-known movie shines through your post, Yvette. I've never heard of it, and would like to experience it for myself. You have interested me, and that's a compliment to any blogger!

  5. iluvcinema: I didn't even realize that the film had been shown so recently. I haven't seen it in years - since I saw it in the theaters on its release. But it's a film that stayed alive in my memory.

  6. I've not heard of this movie before, and am surprised, pleasantly, to see Richard Mulligan playing such a roll, he's normallly the comic relief, nice to see he had such a range.
    These types of movies are heartwrenching, but as you said, need to be seen. It's true how so many movies nowadays leave you the minute you leave the theater (television shows as well)...I long for the days when intelegent writing ruled scripting. I think we're all starving.
    xo J~

  7. Becky: Thanks so much for the compliment. :)

    I think you'd like this film in the same way I do.

  8. Jessica: Yes, I always loved Richard Mulligan in SOAP. Remember? He was hilarious.

    But in this film he is vile.

    A really wonderful movie even if the ending leaves you crushed.

    I love a movie that makes me think without hitting me over the head.

  9. I believe this was the film I showed to a film class years ago in the 1970s. An African American student in class left the room because the subject matter was so painful. He felt that it reinforced racial stereotypes rather than challenging them.

    You are right, though, it is a moving and important film. It does stick with you.

  10. Ron: I don't understand the charge of stereotype, but then I'm not African American. The friend I saw the film with, many years ago, was.

    We talked for a long time about this film. Stereotyping didn't enter the conversation.

    I still say that for 1964, this was a very daring film. The love story is very believable.

    Maybe young people today don't get it. Don't get the way it was. It WAS a very painful time.

  11. Yes. Some movies need to be made -- and seen by many people to help to change the way things were -- or are today. Some people want society to go back to those awful days.

    I may see it. With movies, I've always found, as with books, art, music, there is always a variety of opinions.

    Movies that may be good for some people to see, to open their eyes and educate some, can be very painful to others. It depends on one's experiences and feelings.

    I'm glad Shindler's List was made, and that it was seen and lauded and won awards.

    Does that mean I'll see it? NO. I saw a short ad for it with something that bothered me for weeks.

    Some of my friends and relatives saw it, including Jewish people, however, for them it's a tough choice. One person was traumatized by part of it. Another Jewish friend, whose parents' families fled Germany during the war, could not see it.

    A year ago I saw Une Secret, a French film about a Jewish family that lived in occupied France under the Petain government. It was very troubling and painful to see. Yet, for friends of mine who don't have Jewish families, it was a good movie, but they weren't upset by it, although it was thought-provoking.

    It's context, experience, one's identity and more, so personal.

  12. Kathy: Oh, I'm like you. I'm leery of films that might be too painful to watch.

    I may still see the film, but I have to do a great deal of thinking about it beforehand.

    When I was younger I could watch just about anything.

    No more.

    As I got older I got more weary and wary.

  13. I could watch more movies when I was younger but my sibling watched horror and disaster movies. I couldn't.

    We both saw episodes of Twilight Zone that terrorized us and we still remember them.

    But movies about real horrors are very tough to watch.

  14. Kathy: '...movies about real horrors are very tough to watch.'


    I think when we're young they don't wound us as much.

  15. When we were young we were also innocent and unaware of the real horrors in the world.

    We were more protected from it. We didn't know the full extent of it although I knew about the Holocaust by age 9 when I asked questions about it in school.

  16. Reading this review and all the comments reminds me of when I sought out a movie my sister told me was her favorite movie of all time. TWO FOR THE ROAD with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. Talk about a painful movie. I hadn't a clue it was about divorce. And I am still troubled that my sister calls it her favorite movie - it's so bittersweet and sad.

    As for growing "more weary and wary" the older we get I can relate.

  17. John: That was one Audrey Hepburn movie I didn't like. It was just as you said, 'so bittersweet and sad.' Not for me.

  18. Kathy: The truth is - most of what I've learned about the Holocaust I learned from books and from PBS television which televises the newsreels and documentaries from that time.


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