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LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963)
Directed and produced by Ralph Nelson. Screenplay was by James Poe, was based on the story by William Barrett.
LILIES OF THE FIELD was nominated for the Best Picture award.
Lilies of the Field is a simple story, that
shows the power of faith and
"Faith is something that catches on." " Lilies
of the Fields
Matt. 6: 28-30 - ("God does not ignore those who depend on him.") - NIV Bible
On their faith in God, a wing and a prayer, 5 nuns from East Germany, led by Mother Superior Maria (Lilia Skala) escaped East Germany by going over the Berlin Wall, and find themselves being sent to the United States, winding up on a farm in the middle of an Arizona desert, praying for a way to build a chapel for the faithful in this rural community. Mother Superior Maria, a stalwart, tenacious soul had led the others in fervent prayer, asking God to provide a way for a chapel to be built on their farmland, so that the faithful would have a place to worship and receive the sacraments from the now traveling Father Murphy, who holds mass in various places, out of the back of his camper-trailer.
One day, a black, currently unemployed construction worker, Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier), who is on his way to the west coast, stops by their farm to get water for his overheated, beat-up station wagon. Mother Superior and the others see Homer as the answer to prayer, the one who would build the chapel . Mother Superior has some hurdles to jump over though. First, she must find ways, both direct and indirect, to convince Homer that he was the one chosen to build it, despite the personality conflicts that Mother Superior and Homer experience. Then, how will they get the materials and the help needed to complete this task, from a poor, uninspired community?
Mother Superior's faith never falters, and she keeps boldly acting on it, determined that a way would be found around all the stumbling blocks in the way. Her faith is contagious. It not only encourages the faith of the other sisters, but Homer catches it, the agnostic cafŽ owner, Juan (Stanley Adams) catches it, the cynical Mr. Ashton (Ralph Nelson) of the local construction company even comes on board in support. By living by and stepping out on her faith, the faith of the whole community is bolstered, drawing them all together, and they enthusiastically all help to build the chapel, under Homer's direction.
This simple, yet stirring story was written by author William Barrett, who was a master of the telling of belief in God without preaching. He also wrote, "The Left Hand of God." This entertaining screenplay, which was adapted faithfully from Barrett's story, was wonderfully written by the talented James Poe, who also wrote "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?," and "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof." Poe's clever writing gives this talented cast plenty to work with, as they bring to life the various personalities, as they interact with each other in various scenes, creating a very entertaining film that tells the story in a humorous, poignant way of what the faith, prayers, courage and leadership of one woman accomplished for the community of faith.
Director / Producer Ralph Nelson not only did a great job directing great performances from the cast, but had a part in the film as well, playing Mr. Ashton, the construction company owner, that Mother Superior introduces Homer to, to show Homer her confidence in him. Ralph Nelson also directed "Father Goose," "Flight of the Doves," and "Charly," plus various T.V. shows and films. Ralph Nelson did a bit of everything, throughout his long, successful career in the film business. He was an actor, writer, producer, and director.
Sidney Poitier gave a terrific performance as Homer Smith, which won him the Best Actor Oscar for his delightful portrayal of a strong-willed, compassionate man with a sense of humor, and a stubborn streak, who not only taught the sisters a little English, bought them groceries, became their friends, but shared his faith by teaching them his "goinâ to meetin" song, "Amen." Thanks to the efforts of patient Mother Superior, Homer, after some difficulties, agrees to build the chapel. Poitier convincingly shows his character's growth as the film progresses, learning to not focus so much on himself, but to see the bigger picture.
A favorite sequence of scenes with Homer and the others is the actual building of the chapel and the problems that were encountered. Homer Smith thought that he was chosen to build the chapel all by himself. When everyone showed up and started to work as well, he temporarily stomps off in a huff, with disastrous results for the chapel. He does come back, after some soul-searching and a "talk" with Mother Superior, becoming the site director, getting everything back in order and on track. He does however, find a way to personalize this experience.
Lilia Skala does a wonderful job portraying Mother Superior Maria who must really use her faith, wits and courage to convince Homer and others about the chapel project, not an easy task for her, but made possible by her unflinching faith that God has heard their prayers, has a plan and will take care of them, like the lilies of the field passage says in the Matthew scriptural reference listed above. Lisa Mann as Sister Gertrude, Isa Crino as Sister Agnes, Francesca Jarois as Sister Albertine and Pamela Branch as Sister Elizabeth all offer great supporting ensemble performances as the sisters, giving the main characters convincing characters to react to and play off of.
A favorite sequence of scenes between the nuns and Homer is when he teaches them some English and then the "Amen" song, which was written by late Jester Hairston, who also provided the singing voice, dubbed in over Poitier's real voice. The song was a huge hit with the public in 1963. Hairston was a choral director, whose specialty was African American spirituals.
This is a wonderfully uplifting film, and is highly recommended for family viewing.
If you enjoyed LILIES OF THE FIELD you may like "Sister Act," "Keys of the Kingdom," "Bells of Saint Mary's," "The Bishop's Wife," "The Shoes of the Fisherman," "The Ten Commandments," "Ben-Hur," "The Robe," and/or "The Miracle of the Bells."