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Case Number 00350

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A Raisin In The Sun

Sony // 1961 // 128 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // February 29th, 2000

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of A Raisin In The Sun, published April 30th, 2008, is also available.

The Charge

The Prize-Winning Drama That Warms The Screen With Its People and Its Passions!

Opening Statement

A Raisin in the Sun is a thought-provoking look at a family in crisis, a story of black Americans in the year 1960, and a character study of interaction, of meeting the goals and needs of the individual and family. It is also a generational film, of the passing of the mantle of leadership from elder to younger. All of these areas are explored from within the confines of a cramped apartment, with only a few exterior scenes. Adapted from the play by the same name, the fruit of this film doesn't fall far from the tree. Columbia brings another addition to the Columbia Classics collection with a fine transfer, but woefully lacking in the extra department.

The Evidence

There are a lot of good things to say about A Raisin in the Sun. A strong cast, including Sydney Poitier (Lilies of the Field, To Sir with Love, Sneakers) and Ruby Dee (The Stand, Buck and the Preacher, Do the Right Thing) offer powerful performances all. The dialogue is intelligent and often profound. The emotions run the gambit from joyous exultation to disgust, anger, and sadness, and each are performed so flawlessly as to take you, the viewer right into them as well. The different threads of the plot are seamlessly woven in a tapestry that tells a complete story without feeling like something was left hanging or out of place.

The story, in a nutshell, is that of the Younger family; a black family who has worked as servants and laborers for more than one generation. The family is headed by the matronly mother Lena, and includes Walter Jr. (Poitier), a chauffeur with dreams of rising above his station in life, his wife Ruth (Dee) who works as a servant as well, his young son Travis, and his sister Beneatha, who is studying to be a doctor. The beginning brings a financial windfall for the family as the life insurance policy of $10,000 arrives from Walter Sr.'s death. Much controversy and heated emotions arise as they deal with the differing dreams and desires of how to use the money and the loss of father and husband that brought it about. Each character also has their own separate issues going on; for Beneatha it is her desires for self expression and conflict between assimilation or harkening back to her African roots, for Ruth her new pregnancy, for Walter the desire to go into business for himself, and for Lena to own a house of her own for the first time. Two suitors for Beneatha also illustrate the dichotomy between her desires; one a very young Louis Gosset Jr. who represents modern day America, and the other Joseph Asagai from Nigeria, who wants to marry her and bring her back to Africa with him.

While the story is set during the real breaking days of the civil rights movement, it is usually only alluded to, except for when they ultimately buy a house in a white neighborhood. Then the "welcoming committee" arrives to attempt to talk them out of moving in. The dangers of racism are really brought to light as the man representing the homeowners of the neighborhood is not some redneck Klansman but a meek and mild man who tries to use persuasion that each race would be happier in their own neighborhood. The "new racism" of disguising bigotry under a genteel veneer and disclaimers of innocence of such illustrate what I still believe is the state of race relations today. The overt has been replaced with the covert.

The movie looks great on this disc. There is a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer on one side and pan-and-scan on the other, and the video is exceptionally clean, with only some minor grain marring the black and white presentation. Black levels are usually deep, sometimes ranging into dark gray, and the shadow detail is fine. The film looks very well considering it is nearly 40 years old. The sound fares even better than the picture, especially considering it is a 2 channel mono track. The dialogue is clear and even the music doesn't have nearly as harsh of sound as is usual in such tracks. The soundtrack is more than adequate for this type of film.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It is ironic that for such a powerful film and strong cast my biggest complaint is with the film itself. As I said before, this was adapted from the play, but it wasn't adapted much. You get the feeling this is simply a film version of the play, without any of the enhancements that film allows you, such as moving settings. The dialogue and actions are also more suited to the stage than film as well. In theater it is important to project out into the audience, whereas in film you can get by with a much more subtly delivered line and smaller, more nuanced gestures. The dialogue and movements seem more like carbon copies of a stage production rather than adapted for film. Some will not mind this approach, but I did.

My other complaint is in the extras department. Columbia really needs to do a better job with their talent files, which are simply not complete enough. The quality of these talent files varies from decent to poor depending on the release, and this one fits into poor. Just break down and give complete filmographies already. The only other supplements are trailers for A Raisin in the Sun, To Sir with Love, Brother John, and Buck and the Preacher. None of these dated trailers truly inspire you to watch the films they represent. A film this deep and impacting really deserved more, such as a commentary track or documentary. Maybe something talking about the play and it's conversion to film. This one gives the feeling of any old release rather than part of a Classics collection.

Closing Statement

While I'm disappointed in some aspects of the film and certainly the dearth of useful extras, there is no mistaking this is a powerful story with fine performances all around. Some won't mind the stage-type presentation and they should at least rent the disc, as should most fans of Sidney Poitier. Is it worthy of purchase? Yes, probably. But maybe with a rental preview first. My video and audio ratings are considering the age of the film, something I feel necessary so that newer, poorer films do not get higher average scores.

The Verdict

Sydney Poitier is again thanked for his fine films in his career. The director is given probation for not truly making a film from the play. Columbia is given a warning about the poor treatment given on the talent files and informed that these Classic Collection entries demand a bit more in the extras department than just trailers. Give us a documentary, features, or commentary track, or don't bother calling it part of a collection.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 80
Extras: 40
Acting: 84
Story: 93
Judgment: 76

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• English
• Chinese
• Korean
• Portuguese
• Spanish
• Thai
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic

Distinguishing Marks

• Talent Files
• Trailers


• IMDb

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