“A travelling handyman becomes the answer to the prayers of nuns who wish to build a chapel in the desert.”

Director: Ralph Nelson
Writers: James Poe, Willam E. Barrett (based on novel)
Staring: Sidney Poitier, Lila Skala
Release Date: July 5, 1963

Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier) is a handyman always searching for a job. His car breaks down in an unsuspecting location, the beaten down house of German immigrant nuns. In exchange for food, and some hospitality, Mother Maria (Lilia Skala) asked that Homer help them on their small acre of land. He fixes their room, teaches them a bit of English, but there is more to be done.

Fast forward a few days and Mother Maria is asking Homer to build a chapel for them on their land. The need for this area of worship is illuminated in the story when Mother Maria has Homer drive her group of worshippers to the local area in town where a priest was doing mass out of the back of a vehicle. This task of building a chapel is not appealing to Homer, for he knows the upcoming difficulties of supples, time, etc.

In the end, through the power of faith, family and fortitude, the journey to build the chapel starts hitting massive landmarks. Supplies start to be donated, people start to volunteer and the chapel itself begins to rise from the empty ground it started on. Smith completes his character arc, which began as an independent contractor, to a more empathetic project manager.

The biggest takeaway from Lilies Of The Field is that Sidney Poitier is a star. He has crazy on screen charisma. He won the Oscar for his performance as Homer Smith in what was his second and final Academy Award nomination. With this win in 1963, he became the first African American actor to with Best Actor. He was the only black man to take home that award until Denzel Washington in Training Day (2021), which is really bonkers to think about. Also, in a crazy coincidence, Washington was his award at the 2002 ceremony where Poitier was given an honorary Oscar. Fate, it has to be, fate.

I am the first to admit that I have not seen a lot of Poitier movies, but I personally thought his performance In The Heat Of The Night (1967) was stronger. Also, I enjoyed that movie as a whole more. With that being said, Poitier makes Lilies Of The Field more kinetic than it has any right to be.

There was one part of Lilies Of The Field that highlighted some tough audio editing. When Homer Smith was singing “Amen” to the nuns for the first time, it is not Poitier’s voice you hear. It is a dubbed voice of Jester Hairston, who composed the song. This comes from the IMDB trivia section, and if you have seen the movie, then you know exactly what I am talking about. Also according to IMDB, Poiter’s “singing” throughout the movie is more-so a guessing game by him because he is tone-deaf, meaning he has no idea how to sing on key. I am not saying that I am Poitier, but I can empathize with that tone deafness.

An underrated character in the movie is Juan, played by Stanley Adams. He has some great lines and acts as the therapist to Homer whenever he gets breakfast. He speaks straight to the point, as does Mother Maria.

Lilia Skala got her only ever Oscar nomination for her role as Mother Maria. What is most easily taken away from this head master personality is her leadership style. She does not give compliments, and there is always something more to do when a task is done. The Work is never complete. Smith gets annoyed by this during the movie, but as the story progresses he and Mother Maria can share snide smiles knowing that they are getting on each other’s nerves. One can also point out that Mother Maria and her nuns are German, and this leadership style is not the most benevolent.

Lilies In The Field would be nothing without Poitier, and his performance allows you too relate to the relationship between he and Mother Maria. There are different leadership styles, and different ways of going about and approaching work. Sometimes you need to take a step back and learn from people’s different approaches in order to better get the job done.

STANKO RATING: B (3.5/5 Stars)


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