May 14, 2007
A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Grade: 55/100

Director: Daniel Petrie
Stars: Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil

What it's about. The Younger family receives a large life insurance check after the death of the patriarch. The check is in the name of the semi-elderly widow (Claudia McNeil), but it is coveted by her son Sidney Poitier, who wants it to purchase a liquor store. His loyal wife Ruth (Ruby Dee) is expecting. His sister Bennie (Diana Sands) is a college student with designs on becoming a doctor. Tensions arise, since McNeil is a moralist who disapproves of Poitier's get-rich scheme, especially if it involves alcohol.

How others will see it. This movie is obviously based on a play. Most of the film takes place within the Younger's downscale apartment. Scenes are lengthy, and feature extensive dialogue. Many viewers won't have the patience for it, but those who enjoy family dramas or soap operas might like it, if they can accept its black and white cinematography.

How I felt about it. In its day, A Raisin in the Sun was an acclaimed, ground-breaking movie. Imagine, a Hollywood film with a (practically) all-black cast, but without any musical numbers. It's a serious, well-intentioned play/movie about a serious subject, the struggle of a family to stay together and make it despite an environment seemingly determined to grind them down instead.

A Raisin in the Sun may have been the pattern for "Good Times", the 1970s sitcom based on a ghetto family. In particular, the incorruptible mother character transferred over. Getting ahead is of secondary consideration to her. She wants the family together and stable, and she wants them to demonstrate character and integrity. A better life materially would also be nice, but it is of secondary importance.

Thus, Big Mama is more upset when her daughter denies God than when her son loses a small fortune to a grifter. Her daughter-in-law is considering an abortion, but she blames her son instead, since he won't defend with due righteousness the life of the unborn child.

Real proof that Pride Cometh Before a Fall is the film's "happy" ending. The Youngers refuse to cut a profitable business deal with snivelling John Fiedler, the spokesman for racists who want to keep their suburb lily-white. Instead, they cheerfully move into a new neighborhood where they will be surrounded by folks who might just burn down their home late one night. Things are really looking up only for Bennie, who has two suitors (including a young Louis Gossett Jr.) with good prospects. For the rest of the family, it's Goodbye Bennie, Hello bills.