Monday, August 24, 2015

FOR LOVE OF IVY 1968

After more than a decade of shouldering, with both dignity and grace, the damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t burden of being Hollywood's first African-American superstar  (the representative movie face of the entirety of black America, while at the same time liberal Hollywood’s unofficial Civil Rights symbol), Sidney Poitier’s appearance in the well-intentioned, but nonetheless cringe-worthy 1967 film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, successfully brought his trademark Noble Negro character to its logical conclusion. I number myself among those who felt that by 1967, if Poitier's godlike paragon of Afro-American perfection was the kind of sugar necessary to make the medicine of interracial marriage go down, then the time had indeed come for a complete overhaul of the cinema image of the American black male.
Sidney Poitier as Jack Parks
Abbey Lincoln as Ivy Moore
Beau Bridges as Tim Austin
Lauri Peters as Gena Austin
Leon Bibb as Billy Talbot
Carroll O'Connor as Frank Austin
Nan Martin as Doris Austin

I was just ten-years-old at the time, but I recall Sidney Poitier being all over the place in 1967. First, there was To Sir With Love, which I went to see more times than I can count; In The Heat of the Night, which was powerful, but I can’t say I enjoyed it much; and the release of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? was such a major event in our household (my mom adored Poitier and was a Katherine Hepburn fan), it occasioned the rare movie outing for the entire family. (As much as I can't really abide the movie now, you have no idea what a groundswell of controversy it sparked when it came out. I also remember how scary it was that, no matter how divided everyone was about the film, the only ones leveling angry protests, violent threats, and acts of terrorism at theaters showing this almost comically circumspect movie were the KKK and white extremists.)

With Poitier starring in three such profitable and high-profile films in the same year, signs would seem to indicate the Academy Award-winning actor’s already illustrious career (1964 Best Actor -Lilies of the Field) was on the ascendance. But, irony of ironies, after being virtually the sole lead black actor working consistently in films for many years, Poitier's popularity started to decline in direct proportion to the emergence of the youth-market fueled, black film explosion of the 70s. With a new decade dawning, and with it, an exciting array of new black talent and afro-centric narratives filling movie screens; Poitier must have found it dismaying to have the very doors he had been so instrumental in opening for actors of color, suddenly closed to him.
40-year-old Sidney Poitier Grooves at a 60s Happening
Poitier's comforting, buttoned-down image began to look dated as the more militant 70s approached 

Sidney Poitier’s screen persona – that of the non-threatening, nobly acquiescing, almost saintly black male – embodied the assimilationist ideals of the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. But it wasn’t long before factions of the African-American community began to find the sexless, selfless characters Poitier played in films like A Patch of Blue (1965) and Lilies of the Field more representative of white fantasy than black reality. In the tumultuous social climate of the late 60s, as Civil Rights assimilation gave way to the more self-identifying thrust of the Black Power Movement, and galvanizing events like the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (four months after the release of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?) signaled a new self-determination and militancy; Poitier's image (inseparable from Poitier the actor) had become an anachronism.

Thus it was perhaps with no small sense of relief on his part, when Poitier was at last able to discard his socially-appointed halo and embark upon a series of human-scale roles designed to update and reconstruct his image. That he essentially had to write, produce, and eventually direct most of these roles in order to achieve this, points to the level of reluctance he faced within the industry when called upon to relate to him as anything other than a symbol of tolerance. In 1969s The Lost Man Poitier played a militant revolutionary (!), a single father in A Warm December (1973), and a thief in A Piece of the Action (1977). But his very first attempt at downsizing the saintly Poitier mystique was in the charming romantic comedy, For Love of Ivy.

Debunking the myth of the contented domestic,
happy to be "Like one of the family." 
Jack - "Looks like you've got a pretty good setup here."
Ivy - "Too good!. I don't want to die here."
Jack - "You've got to die somewhere."
Ivy - "Well, isn't it better not to go ignorant and alone?"

The upscale suburban household of the Austin family is thrown into a tailspin when Ivy (Lincoln), the family maid of nine years, decides to quit, move to New York and attend secretarial school (in other words, make a life for herself). Certain she’s simply lonely, the younger members of the family, Tim & Gena (Bridges / Peters), elect to find her a boyfriend. Not just any suitor, since they certainly don’t want her falling in love and leaving, but someone who’s altar-shy and willing to wine and dine Ivy with no strings attached. Their best candidate for the job is Jack Parks (Poitier), the wealthy owner of a trucking company whose reputation as a swinger assures Ivy won’t be whisked away, and whose illegal mobile gambling operation makes him a shoo-in for a little maid-courtship extortion.

With Ivy thinking she's dating Jack just to help the family business (the Austin's own a department store and contracts with Jack's trucking company), and Jack doing it to avoid exposure of his illegal nighttime activities, each thinks they know what they're getting into as the embark on their arranged rendezvous. And if you’ve ever seen a movie in your life before, there’s no mystery as to how things between Ivy and Jack will play out.
The Set-Up
The plot is negligible, but the context is what fascinates. The well-intentioned Austins mistake their need for Ivy with actual concern for her welfare. She's a buffer between the acrimonious father and son, a sister of sorts to the daughter, and she completely runs the household. White liberalism is lampooned, black self-reliance is championed, and among a cast of characters at loggerheads over how to best live their lives, Ivy emerges the one clear-headed individual who never strays from her desire to have a life of her own.

Genre-wise, it's all familiar territory that feels somehow unfamiliar due to the fun of seeing how significantly these Doris Day / Rock Hudson tropes are turned on their heads when (at long last) the lovers at the center of their own narrative - permitted to be funny, determined, amorous, conflicted, self-assured, independent, and imperfect - are black. A rarity then, and not exactly a commonplace occurrence now.
For Love of Ivy was taken to task for being corny in the Swinging 60s. In today's atmosphere of misogynist, mean-spirited rom-coms, the respectful, genuinely sweet romance at the center of the film looks positively cutting-edge. 

With a screenplay adapted by Robert Alan Aurthur (All that Jazz) from a 19-page story treatment written by Poitier himself (that was turned down by three studios), For Love of Ivy is one of those familiar, old-fashioned romantic comedies built around a grand deception. A lie first contrived to bring the lovers together, followed by a misunderstanding, ending with a romantic reconciliation. It’s exactly the kind of movie Hollywood has churned out for years. And therein lies the twist. 
For the longest time, Hollywood’s depiction of African-Americans in movies has been defined by the narrow parameters of symbols, stereotypes, sidekicks, or vessels of suffering in need of white rescue. Characters just being black and human in a motion picture is still such an original concept, you could use plots from silent movies, but with blacks in the leads, the film would still come out looking like an innovative act of cultural insurgency.

Paraphrasing the sentiments of a movie critic from the time  after having played so many solemn, “uplift the race” roles, Poitier, as a black movie star, was more than entitled to exercise his right to appear in the same mindless, escapist movie fare white stars like Frank Sinatra and Tony Curtis had been making for years. Sidney Poitier had earned the right to be in an amusing diversion.
After nearly 20 years in the business, leading man Sidney Poitier finally gets a love scene

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
When a film dismissed at the time of its release for being too light and conventional provides: 1) One of the screen’s most independent, dimensional black female characters, 2) The still-rare occurrence of a black romance at the center of a mainstream, non-niche motion picture, 3) An Afro-centric narrative in which the goals and objectives of the black characters are in no way invested in, nor dependent upon, the happiness of white characters - perhaps there’s a bigger statement to be made about why it is today, during the Administration of our first black President, Hollywood still seems unable to move beyond butlers (The Butler- 2013), maids (The Help- 2011), and slaves (not enough space to list them all).
Ivy Is The Only Austin "Family" Member Required To Use The Service Entrance
This silent, throwaway shot of Ivy returning home from a date contains the crux of the reason she wants to leave. A reason right under the noses of the people who profess love for her, yet are unable to understand why she wants to quit.  

I have a real soft spot in my heart for For Love of Ivy...and not just because I find Poitier and Lincoln to be an absolutely adorable couple. The  gimmicky aspects of its plot notwithstanding, I respond sentimentally to For Love of Ivy because the character of Ivy Moore is one of the most satisfyingly believable black female characters I've ever seen in a film.

Surprisingly, this feather-light comedy was directed by Daniel Mann, the director behind the film adaptations of the dramas, Come Back Little Sheba, The Rose Tattoo, and I'll Cry Tomorrow. Sidney Poitier was inspired to write For Love of Ivy to provide his four daughters with an alternative to the usual glamorized (fetishized?) images of black women onscreen. Stars like Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, and Diahann Carroll (with whom Poitier once had an affair), were favored for their Eurocentric features and exotic similarity to white actresses. Poitier wished to present a more authentic representation of black womanhood.
And authenticity is what I find in the character of Ivy, as embodied by the late Abbey Lincoln. Ivy is a dignified, independent woman who wants love and a better life, but isn’t looking to be rescued or saved by anyone but herself. She's a woman who only works as a maid, she is not a maid. An important distinction.
"What do you want?"
"I'm not sure. I just know I haven't got it now."

When I watch For Love of Ivy, I see my four sisters, my mom, and every black woman who has ever had to define herself, for herself, because society, by and large, can't be bothered. I've no doubt that the main reason the character of Ivy resonates with me is because, when I was small, my mother worked for a time as a maid. Later, when I was a pre-teen when my parents divorced. I remember my mom going to night school and getting her driver's license, eventually working her way to a managerial position in government at San Francisco’s Federal Building. All the while sending all of us kids to private Catholic school.
That she eventually came to meet and marry a terrific, well-to-do gentleman who was her own Sidney Poitier figure (and a dynamite father figure for me), making it possible for her to quit her job and live out her days in comfort, is the kind of real-life "Hollywood" ending for a deserving woman that makes the fairy tale romanticism of For Love of Ivy feel a good deal less sappy for me than perhaps it does to others.

Self-reliant and proud, my mother, as remarkable as she sounds, isn’t really unique among black women. There's lots like her around. But I never saw any black women like my mother represented in the movies (glamorized and glorified, to boot!) until I saw For Love of Ivy.
Principally a jazz singer and songwriter, here is 25-year-old Abbey Lincoln as she
appeared in the 1956 film, The Girl Can't Help It

PERFORMANCES
For all its abundant charm, For Love of Ivy is a bit of a puzzler when it comes to comedic tone. It’s like when I was a kid and easy-laugh sitcoms like Gilligan’s Island aired before laugh-free “heartwarming” humor shows like The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. I always felt like my funny bone had a short in it or something.
Watching For Love of Ivy, comedically speaking, I get a sense of where it’s coming from: It’s partly one of those fraught-with-complications Cary Grant romantic comedies like That Touch of Mink; part class-satire along the lines of Goodbye Columbus; and part bourgeois romantic comedy, like Cactus Flower
Making her film debut (far right): Jennifer O'Neill of The Summer of '42 (1971)
Making her film debut (far right): Gloria Hendry, the first black Bond Girl in Live & Let Die (1973)
I say I get a sense of where the film is coming from because, comedy-wise, For Love of Ivy never really arrives. Movies like this thrive on wit and a kind of effortless effervescence, but the comedy rhythms in For Love of Ivy always feel a little off. Beau Bridges as one of those super clean-cut hippies that only exist in the movies, has great comic energy. He’s a terrific actor capable of conveying sincerity while inhabiting the genre-mandated hyperactivity of expression, inflection, and body language. But too often it feels as if he’s working a particularly tough room.

Tim Harbors A Not-Too-Secret Crush On Ivy
No stranger to onscreen interracial relationships, Bridges fell in love with Diana Sands in 1970s The Landlord, and most recently, portrayed Tracee Ellis Ross' father on the TV show, Black-ish

Sidney Poitier, playing a morally dubious character for the first time since Blackboard Jungle (1955), looks to be enjoying himself, and is more relaxed than he’s been in years.  Cutting a dashing figure in his tux and fairly oozing sex appeal and star quality, Poitier finally gets the chance to look the part of the matinee idol he’s always been. Poitier has a splendid chemistry and rapport with co-star Lincoln, but when it comes to the comedy; the palpable intelligence behind his piercing eyes has a way of grounding even the most convoluted of plot contrivances in an emotional reality antithetical to the breeziness of tone required of material like this. (It would be six years before Poitier loosened up enough to give his disarmingly funny performance in Uptown Saturday Night -1974.)

Not really given much to do in this film, Nan Martin would go on to play a tougher version of the same role the following year in Goodbye Columbus. Carroll O'Connor , along with his fame from All in the Family, would play the Rod Steiger role in the  long-running TV series based on Poitier's film, In The Heat of the Night 

But while the broader comedy doesn't always catch fire in For Love of Ivy, the very gentle, very affecting character humor and touching relationships are handled rather extraordinarily. Beau Bridges' character may be a misguided liberal, but his very real affection for Ivy is a rather endearingly portrayed.


THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Displaying that rare brand of professional generosity I generally associate with Clint Eastwood - being one the few leading men willing to hand over his film to his female co-star - Sidney Poitier allows For Love Ivy to be Abbey Lincoln's show completely. And the picture is all the better for it.
For Love of Ivy Should Have Made the Beautiful and Gifted Abbey Lincoln a Movie Star
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for this, but wisely (in terms of holding on to her sanity and dignity) stuck to her music career. She didn't make another film until 1990- Spike Lee's Mo' Betta Blues.

She's a natural at capturing the essence of a uniquely contemporary type of female character...one who possesses a great deal of old-fashioned charm. Word has it that Lincoln, a singer and Civil Rights activist, for whom Ivy represents just her 2nd film (first: the must see 1964 drama, Nothing But a Man), beat out 300 actresses for the role. I can easily see why. She's one of a kind.

From beginning to end, Lincoln commands the screen in a way born not so much of technical skill, but rather of an ability to appear 100% genuine every single minute.
In the film's brightly-lit, Love American Style  TV sitcom gloss, Lincoln stands out as the real thing.
Not a single one of her scenes is ever less than compelling because she is incapable of emotional playacting. Her performance so fills my heart up, I confess that in the many times I've seen the film, I have yet to make it  through dry-eyed. Her character is so endearing, and Lincoln's performance at times so emotionally raw, I've pretty much got the waterworks going full-throttle by the film's conclusion.
Get Out Your Handkerchiefs 
I have many favorite scenes, but this one slays me. Poitier has never been more charming,
and Lincoln is a heartbreaker 
Along with Two for the Road and A New Leaf, For Love of Ivy is one of my top favorite romantic comedies. Nostalgia plays a role (after all, it was released the same year as so many of my most beloved films: Rosemary's Baby, Barbarella, Secret Ceremony, etc.). As does sentiment (Poitier & Lincoln have chemistry to spare). But there's also a bittersweet element. I think of Sidney Poitier's heroic career and all he sacrificed in the way of personal choice, taking on roles because of his deeply felt sense of social responsibility. I think of Abbey Lincoln and all the other black actresses whose gifts we've all been deprived of because nobody was writing roles like this for black women.

And then I think of how things are today, and that it sometimes as if so little progress has been made. I mean, can you imagine what Tyler Perry would do to a remake of For Love of Ivy? (For Love of Medea) or how hard I have to rack my brain to think of the last time I saw a black female character onscreen with as much dimension as Lincoln's Ivy Moore?

Although For Love of Ivy has been a favorite of mine for years, how I came about rewatching it is due to my being contacted by Deep THOTS, a weekly pop-culture podcast hosted by the amazing Angie Thomas, and asked to participate in a conversation contrasting the depiction of domestics/maids in1968s  For Love of Ivy with 2011s The Help. What a difference 43-years can make...in anti-progress! You can listen to the spirited podcast HERE.


BONUS MATERIAL
Quincy Jones' title song was For Love of Ivy's sole Oscar nomination. Listen.

Unused title song composed by John Phillips commissioned for the film by The Mamas and the Papas. Listen. 

Nothing But a Man (1964)  - Complete film available on YouTube


Copyright © Ken Anderson

31 comments:

  1. Wow. So, so, so, so, SO many interesting and thought-provoking issues at hand with this one and you - as always - touched upon many, if not all, of them expertly. I've said it before, but this site always offers such amazing CONTEXT for the films you spotlight rather than just taking them at face value for what they were then or are now. Sometimes it's like getting a hyper-enjoyable (not-just-film) history lesson with each review.

    One thing (out of many to choose from) that struck me in particular was your point about how contemporary films still clinging to the maid, butler, slave characters. I know not ALL films are that way, but it's still a point well taken (and these rank among the most financially successful, suggesting that they're the ones a lot of Caucasians attend en masse, right?)

    Again, I applaud your site for its ability to enlighten along with entertaining, which it always does in heavy measure!

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    1. Poseidon, your words go straight to my heart!
      As someone who connects almost exclusively to older films, I sometimes think the ONLY thing I can bring to the table about films from the 70s and 60s is my elder status and memory of the context in which so many of these "oldies" occurred. One of the perks age!

      Anyhow, I appreciate that being an element you enjoy and find informative. There's really not much in the actual narrative of "Ivy" that is new, but BOY is it a refection of its time, and -certainly unintentionally- an embarrassing indictment of where we are today.

      I don't think you could ever have convinced me back in the day of "For Love of Ivy" "Claudine" or Maya Angelou's 1972 "Georgia, Georgia" that in 2015 we would still be making movies about maids, slaves, butlers, and Civil Rights leaders. I would have assumed all of that territory was covered and we'd just have black people starring in love stories, dramas, tragedies, kiddie movies, westerns, and spy films.In short, just being people in movies, not contextualized exclusively through the same sociological/political prism that kept Poitier's career in dry dock.
      Perhaps its an essay for another time and place just why it is that films reinforcing subordinate, oppressed narratives for blacks always make more money than quality non-stereotypical films like "Eve's Bayou."
      Glad you enjoyed the piece and happy you found some of the points taken, interesting food for thought. Now that I'm done with researching this, I have to catch up with your site. I see there is a piece on Joan Crawford in "Trog" I haven't read yet!

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  2. Argyle, here. Ken - thank you for being out there and writing this (as well as everything else on your blog.) I really don't have anything to add; I've never seen this but now want to. I'm sure you've read "Pictures at a Revolution" by Mark Harris that focuses on the five best picture nominees from 1967, two of which starred Sidney Poitier ("Guess Who.." and "In the Heat...") His breakdown of Poitier's career dilemma is fascinating and frustrating. I hardly go out to the movies now because everything seems so schematic. I hate being such a sour-puss. And marketing makes so many things just the topic du jour which is dreary and limiting. (I'm sorry, I do not want to have to listen to a John Legend song.) I wish I was 10 again and not so judgmental, just grateful to get to go to a movie. Well, I'm grateful for your essays.

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    1. Hi Argyle
      Yes, I did read "Pictures at a Revolution" some time ago, and though I seem to have retained little of what I read, I do recall enjoying coming across a book focusing on films from my favorite era).

      Poitier's career dilemma really IS fascinating, and in retrospect, time has revealed many of the true frontlines heroes taking the brickbats of having to be all things to all people in movies, are the African-American actors and actresses (Poitier, Belafonte, Carroll, Dandridge, McDaniel) who were so often taken to task by both sides of the discussion.

      Like you, I have little interest in much of what is going on in films today (but I love a lot of what I've been seeing on cable and streaming networks). I don't think you're being a sourpuss, and discernment shouldn't be confused with being judgemental.

      You're an adult and maybe you've learned that two hours spent sitting through a market-research merchandise disguised as a movie is precious time poorly spent. (I cracked up at the John Legend reference).

      When I was young, my openness to new experiences in film shaped my current tastes, interests, and passions. One of the perks of getting older is letting those formative years guide my choices today. That means i don't see a lot of contemporary films, but the ones I do (Maps to the Stars, Blue Jasmine) are choice! (My choice)

      Hope you do get an opportunity to check out "For Love of Ivy" - a far from perfect film, but one I think time has been very kind to.
      Thank you for the lovely comments!

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  3. Ken,

    You really covered the bases here. I love when you make meaning of films that you've seen and write about by connecting them to your life experiences. It really sets your blog apart and I think you could write a fine memoir interspersed with your takes on films that shaped you!

    Also listened to the podcast discussing "The Help" and "Ivy." It made me want to check out "Ivy" and I will do so...fascinating how sometimes past films are more ahead of their time than certain current ones!

    And finally, I am curious as to why you didn't care for "In the Heat of the Night." I saw it a couple of summers ago and thought it held up well, though I thought Lee Grant's method hamming was a bit much. And Sidney's "Mr Tibbs!" seemed more real than his saintly turn in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"

    Lovely, thoughtful work!

    Rick

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    1. Hi Rick
      (this should count as one of my speediest replies ever!)
      Thank you very, very much! I think for a lot of shy kids (and gay kids) of my generation, movies were always more than just entertainment. They provided invaluable tools for escape, fantasy, imagination, introspection, and discovery. I don't that's ever changed for me, so i appreciate your taking note of the personal thrust of so many of my essays.

      I find the whole "Ivy" phenomenon interesting because it seems to reflect something I notice in culture nowadays. There seemed to be a time when movies sought to incite change,inspire thought, and progressive attitudes. Now, reflective of a certain mass anti-intellectualism and widespread distrust of thought and ideas, movies seem focused on reassuring people's calcified mindsets, rather than challenging them.

      "ivy" isn't about anything revolutionary, and indeed, because the challenges to the status quo are subtextural rather than surface, I suspect young viewers will wonder even what I'm talking about, but the ideas within it are far and beyond what movies are doing today.

      And as for "In the Heat of the Night" I saw that when I was ten or so and haven't seen it since. Not a comment on its content or execution, merely that cop and crime films are not really a favorite. One day I hope to give it another look, but over the years I've just never been tempted to revisit it.
      Thanks for your ever-kind comments and giving a listen to the podcast. That you keep coming back to this blog and contribute so sincerely and thoughtfully, really means a lot.

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    2. Ken, Movies provided the same things for me growing up in the 70s in Upper MI. I find it fascinating in a "grass is always greener" way that you were a gay, black kid growing up in San Fran in the late '60s and '70s. To me, this sounds like living in paradise! But that's why I glean on your sharing bits of autobiography in your film posts, because it's never easy for anyone who is different, no matter where you live.

      And yes,it seems like mainstream America keeps wanting to go back to "simpler" times. Except people forget all that it entails. Reagan played on that big time, and the Republicans are still playing that song, as out of tune as it sounds...

      Re: In the Heat of the Night. What I enjoyed most about it was that it felt like a fairly natural slice of life during turbulent times. Unlike other movies about race relations, it doesn't feel sentimental or like a cop-out. I probably should watch it again in light of all the events of the last couple years, but that was my reaction two years ago.

      You do great work here. Cheers!
      Rick

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    3. The idea of revisiting "In the Heat of the Night" in light of the events of recent years is intriguing. That's a great reason to check the film out again after so many years. Thanks!

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  4. Dear Ken: Hi! Thanks for another excellent post!

    I have heard of "Ivy" but haven't seen it (I guess I'll just have to admit I haven't seen as many movies from the late 1960s and 1970s as I thought!), so I've added it to our Netflix queue.

    Like Rico, I enjoyed how you wove elements of biography into your reflections on this film. I was particularly moved by your tribute to your mother. She sounds like a wonderful woman!

    And I agree with you about the shocking lack of progress since the late 1960s for black films and black characters. My husband and I really enjoyed "Dear White People"--we thought it was the most thought-provoking film of 2014. But otherwise it is hard to find thoughtful, intelligent films today with black characters who drive the plot. One such film I did enjoy was "Something New" with Sanaa Lathan (and it was great seeing Alfre Woodard play her mother!)--an enjoyable romance about a black woman, written by a black woman! But I was shocked when I looked up "New" on imdb and realized it's almost 10 years old!

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    1. Hi David
      You're always so kind in your referencing my posts, and I'm particularly pleased that you like the minor biographical context stuff (and yes, like everyone's mom, I'm sure, mine was pretty terrific. But we don't seem to ever really get that until we're old).
      I hope you like "Ivy" when you see it. Lincoln's performance is certainly a must-see in my opinion.
      You're the first person I "know" who saw "Dear White People," a film i was curious about but had so little to go on. I know you sometimes say that due to you job, you really don't gravitate to films that are depressing or about abuse.
      I have to say that as a back man who has lived through the early days of Civil Rights battles and dealt with decades worth of what passes for equality in the US, I tend not to gravitate to films I think might be showing/telling me more of what I already see and know. It can be very depressing and angering. That's why I crave more character and "life" films about black life. The political stuff is kind of 57 years of unchanged history for me sometimes.

      I never heard of "Something New," but I put it on my Netflix list! It sounds terrific, and indeed, I'm surprised this ten-year-old film totally slipped by without even a memory of a release.
      Thanks for the recommendation. After your seeing so many films I've written about here, it's nice to repay the compliment.

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  5. I don't think I've ever seen this--although I do remember the Mamas and the Papas singing a version of the theme song. (Wouldn't the 5th Dimension have been a better choice?) But I had to drop by to say your loving tribute to your mother brought a tear to my eye. Lovely.

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    1. Aw, Deb, that's very sweet! Thank you. I miss her to this day, but so happy the latter part of her life was 180 degrees different from the start.

      And thanks for bringing up The Mamas and the Papas song. I'd read somewhere the John Phillips was commissioned to write the a song for the film, but the hippie-pop ditty was rejected in favor of Quincy Jones' more jazz-influenced theme.
      i don't know if this is true, but it would certainly explain how two songs with the same name came to released in 1968.

      Lastly, had the film used the mamas ad papas version, your choice of The 5th Dimension as preferred vocalists is right on the money for the perfect sound for such a light movies as this.

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  6. Another great post Ken.
    Abbey Lincoln was, of course, a fantastic singer but she could have had a major film career, based on 'Ivy' and 'Nothing But a Man.' The range she displays in those two films is quite remarkable.
    The way Hollywood has wasted black female talent is beyond tragic. Diana Sands should have been a superstar, and while Alfre Woodward has worked a lot, she hasn't had the starring roles she deserves.
    I agree with the other post-er about Sanaa Lathan and "Something New" - I had hoped the movie would be a hit and lead to similar romantic comedies for that terrific actress.
    I still don't understand why Pam Grier didn't get more traction from her stunning comeback performance in "Jackie Brown" (not to mention her terrifying supporting work 15 years earlier in "Fort Apache - The Bronx"). She should be working all the time!

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    1. Much appreciated, Joe!
      Such a good point you make about those stellar actresses who all deserved more high-profile careers. Eached teased us with hints of what they could do, and to a one, was almost never afforded opportunities to mine their talents in worthy roles.
      When I see how Viola Davis is making inroads in her career visibility, I can't help but think back to Alfre Woodard and the kind of career I imagined she would have after "Cross Creek." I'm glad she continues to work, but she's such a favorite i always wanted a bigger career for her.
      And don't me started on Diana Sands!
      Love Pam Grier, but never saw "Fort Apache"...another one I need to check out!

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  7. Hello Ken,

    Your film site is the best on the internet and your criticism should be taught as a course at film schools! The selection of films and your reviews are always excellent. I have seen “For the Love of Ivy” on TCM a few years ago and liked it. I remember it being very sweet with the romance and how it suddenly seemed to change tone to become a caper movie what with the secret casino in the trucks!

    Lincoln, Poitier and Bridges gave fine performances. I seem to get Laurie Peters mixed up with Michele Carey (who was in an Elvis Presley movie). Both of them have an annoying cheerleader “quality”.

    Thanks for explaining why Sidney Poitier’s star dimmed in the 1970’s when he should have been a big star on the same level as McQueen and Redford! A bitter irony for him who blazed the trail that he should become so unfashionable in such a short time!

    As you say, it is so strange that the films being produced today don’t reflect more normal aspects of African American lives. Can’t they be portrayed in anything but in a controversial setting? “For the Love of Ivy” should be more well known because it seems so unique as a romantic comedy with blacks in the leads. I am so tired of all the mean spirited comedies being made today. I’m not asking for Doris Day type films but something less aggressive would be good…

    Now I know that the Mamas and Papas song was not included in the film and it’s just as good as it’s a little hopeless, especially at the end of the song when they’re all singing at once and it’s just a mess.

    I must see this film again for Abbey Lincolns performance and the rare experience of seeing a three dimensional black woman portrayed on film. Thank you for sharing your views and your memories of your mother who sounds like a remarkable woman.

    -Wille

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    1. Wille, I wish you were my writing agent! Thank you very much.
      Yes, "For Love of Ivy" is a very sweet movie. I could wish for it to actually be funnier and maybe not so choppy in tone (as you note, the romance and casino caper parts); but I really root for this couple and this romance has a nice layer of personal and social emancipation. And as you say the performances are so good (Peters didn’t leave much of an impression on me, either_

      One of the things I so respect about Sidney Poitier is that he shouldered so much alone. He really had to be all things to all people and he could never really satisfy them all. But unlike some of the public figures today who seek to be role models when it suits their bank accounts or press junkets, Poitier took his role as a “symbol” very seriously, and his later career suffered for it. I don’t think they make them like him anymore.

      I can’t vouch for what young people make of contemporary civil rights films, but as someone who sat through a load of them in the 60s, I kinda thought we’d have a bit more variety by now. You hit the nail on the head in noting how so many black films today have a controversial setting. The close association of black life with strife and political discomfort is a good deal more sociologically retrograde than some people think.
      The normalizing of black experience (for example, I really enjoyed Eddie Murphy’s “Boomerang” [and I pretty much hate Eddie Murphy] because it was a relationship comedy.

      I really cracked up at your description of the Mamas and the Papas theme song. It really is a bit of a mess, isn’t it? It reminds me of the kind of song groups like Boyce & Hart (The Ambushers) and The Cowsills (The Impossible Years) added to movies, dating them instantly.

      Thanks for the very kind words about my essay, and a special appreciative nod for what you said about my mom. Maybe someday, when Hollywood is tired of playing the tolerant liberal, more black kids will aspects of their lives and those they love, represented with some regularity on the screen.
      Take care, Wille!

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    2. I've seen "Boomerang" a few times. It's funny and it has Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt and Halle Berry. Robin Givens was such an underrated actress!

      I love those cheesy theme tunes by Boyce & Hart and The Cowsills! Those Movies were trying to be hip.
      Wille

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    3. I plan on writing about Boomerang someday specifically because Grace Jones is so outrageous in it (I never know if she's aware of parodying herself ) and it has such a killer female cast.
      And I have entire ipod playlist devoted to cheesy 60s movie themes. My favorite is perhaps the Peter Sellers collaboration with The Hollies for "After the Fox". Trying to be hip is the perfect description for composer John Williams in his Johnny Williams days, and the themes he came up with for "Penelope" and "Not With My Wife, You Don't"... movie title sequences were looooong and expensive in the 60s!

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    4. Do write about "Boomerang". It's very entertaining.

      I like the way you think with your playlist! I've collected soundtracks for loads of sixties films. Half of them are in the style of Ennio Morricone lounge music for italian films of the late sixties and the rest are those cheesy Johnny Williams/Henry Mancini scores with silly theme songs. Heaven!
      -Wille

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  8. Ken, this looks like a wonderful film - I need to see it. I have been in a Sidney Poitier swoon lately, having just seen A Patch of Blue, the Slender Thread and Raisin in the Sun again recently. Poitier is divine...

    I have to disagree with you about Guess Who's Coming to Dinner...I think it's a very important film and a very entertaining and moving one as well...my favorite scene is where Isabel Sanford catches him without his shirt on and then tells him off...mind-blowing.

    Sexless? I have to differ with you on that too...I agree that he had to be superhumanly "noble" in all of his roles, a real burden, but he carries it off with such graceful ease...but he's also a very sexy man. I am disappointed that he didn't enjoy a liplock with Katharine Houghton in Guess Who's Coming, BUT - I just saw Patch of Blue the other night and he DID have a very steamy kiss with Elizabeth Hartman. A pretty erotic moment, if you ask me.

    Anyway, Ken, I cannot wait to check out For the Love of Ivy...not only for Poitier but Beau Bridges looks adorable in your screencaps, such a studmuffin...and Carroll O'Connor, and Nan Martin (I LOVED her in Big Eden, have you ever seen it?). Thanks again for giving me yet another "old" movie to look forward to.

    You are awesome. I look forward to every post!
    -Chris


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    1. I also was under the impression that Poitier eased out of film in the 1970s by choice, because he was more interested in doing humanitarian work than in acting? It seems that many think he simply "went out of fashion" and I don't think that was the case at all...I thought I had heard or read him say that he found the medium of film acting not to be fulfilling at all, or something to that effect...

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    2. Really? Because there are countless film books (especially books about black cinema) which reference that very phenomenon. Rapid social changes made Sidney Poitier obsolete practically overnight. Among young people and Civil Rights groups at the time, he was a seriously controversial figure. He didn’t stop making movies because he found interests elsewhere, the movies he made consistently lost money as he attempted to change his image. An act that found him alienating those who liked his “safe” persona, and largely coming across as irrelevant to the young.

      As detailed in the documentary about Nina Simone, black Americans in the sixties bore witness to the murder of all of their heroes (Malcom X, MLK), their fighters (Medgar Evers), and the innocent (the four girls killed in the Alabama church bombing). Sidney Poitier’s image, one of winning over white people’s trust and approval, was beloved by whites, but egregiously out of step with black lives and black voices of protest.
      Even in his own memoirs he relates how he was embraced by whites and dismissed as an “Uncle Tom” by sectors of the black community. The passivity, acquiescence, and most certainly the non-confrontational nature of his image – after nearly 20 years onscreen – definitely began to pall. He recognized it, tried to change it in a few films, then, thereafter…moved on to other things. He was an idol, but he was also a dinosaur.

      White audiences still embraced his image to their bosom, but blacks saw that his brand of “respectability politics” didn’t stop black children and leaders from being killed. A new kind of movie hero was sought, and if you look at all the black male stars of the early 70s black film explosion (Melvin Van Peebles, Richard Roundtree, Jim Kelley, Fred Williamson, Raymond St. Jacques, etc.), they are distinguished by their disinterest in making white audiences comfortable. The regrettable cornerstone of Sidney Pouter’s screen legacy.

      I go into so much detail here because it’s important to make a distinction between a subjective difference of opinion and the denial of a reality that isn’t our own. It’s well-documented in many sources that black and white America responded differently to Sidney Poitier’s image, for his career served different purposes to each.
      Recognizing that two truths existed simultaneously is, to me, more accurate than denying that Poitier was always problematic for some factions of black culture. In the 70s, when Poitier lost interest in playing selfless/noble roles, white audiences abandoned him, and black audiences found his roles at this time, a case of too little too late.

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    3. Hi Chris
      This is in replay to the first part of your comment. First off, thank you for the kind words and I'm glad you are a big fan of Poitier, too. Subjective differences in tastes is to be expected, as are different takes as to what constitutes Poitier’s personal appeal. But there’s a subtle difference in disagreeing with “liking” Poitier in certain way, and denying a cultural reality that isn’t yours.

      Black culture’s problems with Poitier extended primarily on the way he and his image were used by white Hollywood. So to historically recount that the social climate in America in the 1950s, when Poitier emerged, had changed significantly by 1968, while Poitier’s screen image had not, is not really a difference of opinion.

      You can choose not to address it, but it’s a fact, and a fact that impacted his marketability. What appeared liberal in 1955 looked old-fashioned in 1968. Perhaps not to whites, but certainly to some blacks. People my parents age felt one way about Poitier, black youths my age another, whites, even another. All are different perspectives of the same man. It’s fair to say you feel differently, but to say you “disagree” can unfortunately sound like “I deny that reality.”

      As a black man, I recognize the historical significance of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" but it is through the eyes of a black man that I find untenable the notion that I am to enjoy a narrative in which a black man has to be (in Poitier's own words) "whiter than white" in order to be worthy of marrying a white character.
      Even the scene you mention, where Isabel Sanford plays a modernized Mammy figure, fiercely protective of the status quo (in which she remains a maid), distrustful of an educated, articulate black man, and leaping to the defense of her white employers (owners)- is too much. I much prefer the more bracing conversation Poitier has with his father. His words to his father are the only words I recognize as coming from a black man. The rest are fantasy to me.
      But in my heart of hearts, I honestly don't think "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" was ever a film intended for black people anyway. As evidenced by who did the most vociferous and violent protests at the time, it's fashioned to soften the blow of legalized interracial marriage (which became legal just months before the film's release) to those who resisted it the strongest.

      In Sidney Poitier's memoir "The measure of a Man" he writes a chapter titled- "Why Do White folks Love Sidney Poitier So?" in which he discusses his own sexless image (he is definitely sexy, but he'd the first to say his success was built on a non-threatening sexuality....like Julie Andrews), his eventual irrelevance to black audiences, and his own pride in what he achieved in his career, and awareness of its political limitations. A very good, eye-opening read.

      I hope you do get a chance to see "For Love of Ivy" (It's available through Netflix) and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Poitier is all the things you say he is in it. Only for once he gets to be those things without first having to prove to whites how worthy he is of being regarded as a human.

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  9. Thank you, Ken--I need to read his autobiography. You definitely have a point that whites must feel differently about him...to many of us, Poitier was a catalyst to enlightenment, serving as a bridge between what was and what could be...and still can be. To me, mostly though, he was one of the most charismatic men to ever grace a movie screen...a great star I admire by virtue of his own unique beingness. I too love the scene between Poitier and his dad in Guess Who's Coming...and I see him as an extraordinary man, not merely an extraordinary man of color. Now I need to read his memoir!

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    1. Much appreciated, Chris. Your comments afforded an opportunity to elaborate on many issues I couldn't address in the essay about the film.
      Poitier has a most impressive body of work, but given his looks, charisma, and talent, he should have been so much more than this shining symbol. The triumph of his career is that he opened doors; the tragedy is that his image so eclipsed his humanity he became a relic of another time.
      His career and legacy is always a reminder to me how racism hurts us all, and that it has no place in the arts. The debt Hollywood owes him...white Hollywood specifically, is immense. He made them appear more forward-thinking than they actually were.
      Poitier's self-sacrificing image did indeed need to die, but I'm glad he's revered now for the talented trailblazer he is.

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  10. I really liked this review and its analysis of black actors in Hollywood. But the corresponding podcast was absolute gold! I hope you get invited again or start your own podcast because it was so oppinionated and true.

    Still don't like Poitier though who's always seemed like a charisma void to me. Maybe I was tainted by my watching 'Guess who' at an early age and really hating the mock-progressive politics of that movie

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    1. Ha! In spite of that whole Skype thing being a total mystery to me, I really enjoyed that podcast. Gathering one's thoughts for an essay is one thing, but being able to blurt things out felt almost cathartic.

      And the divided opinions about Poitier expressed in this comment section really is like a microscopic reenactment of what played out during the 60s. He as a difficult actor to feel neutral about. Many felt Poitier never really showed his real charm until he started to loosen up in the films he made with Harry Belafonte.
      I remember how surprised I was when I first saw him in "Blackboard Jungle" ...he was actually a troublemaker! That didn't last long.
      Thanks for taking the time to listen to the podcast (I wish Angie had her own broadcast show, so fun to talk to), and commenting!

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  11. I'm ashamed that I don't know this one. Just on the year of its release alone, it's clearly already a little ground-breaking. Sad that we still have too few strong black female characters, isn't it? It takes a look back like this to really stop you in your tracks.

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    1. It's available on DVD now, but honestly, MOST people haven't heard of this film.Socially, so much was going on in 1968, "For Love of Ivy" was dismissed as summarily as Doris Day's "With Six You Get Eggroll" which came out around the same time.
      1968 was such a year of protest and change, I think we (naively) thought the future held far more roles more substantial and important than Abbey Lincoln's self-reliant Ivy.

      Rearview reality is the only thing that makes this film so relevant now. It's just sobering to confront this movie in today's climate. You put it so well in saying that it is a look back that stops you in your tracks.
      I read a recent interview in Variety with actress Viola Davis which could have been the transcript of an interview with a black actress in 1968. So little progress on such a long road.

      Thanks very much for commenting (love the name of your blog!)

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  12. Dear Ken: Hi!

    I'm doing a second post because my husband and I got to see "For Love of Ivy" via Netflix last weekend. We both enjoyed it a great deal. As you note, it's not exactly a "ha ha" comedy, but it's extremely thought-provoking. It was wonderful to see a movie that was so invested in a black woman's goals and feelings and dreams. (In fact, the movie seemed to take all of the characters seriously. When Nan Martin had her anxious rant toward the end of the film about thinking of leaving her job to come back to the home to take care of her family, the moment could have been played for laughs but instead seemed very real.)

    And I agree that Lincoln was wonderful, and that Poitier was charming. He seemed more relaxed and at ease than usual, possibly because he was playing a human being with flaws rather than a symbol.

    I especially liked the one shot that you highlighted, above: Ivy coming home from her late-night date and walking past the sign that says "service." That brief moment has so much to say about Ivy's relation to the family and why striking out on her own is so important to her. It also has a lot to say about the troubled nature of race relations in the U.S. and black people having to "know their place." There is a similar shot in the original 1934 version of "Imitation of Life" (which I actually much prefer to the glossier Douglas Sirk version of 1959--one day I'll write about why I think Sirk is ridiculously overpraised as a director). The two mothers, white Claudette Colbert and black Louise Beavers, are sitting together in the living room of the home they share, commiserating about their emotional problems. Then they get up to leave, and Claudette ascends the grand circular staircase to her upstairs living suite, while Louise trudges down the back stairs to her maid's room.
    It's a chilling moment.

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    1. Hi David
      You really are something when it comes to taking a chance on some of the films I write about. I'm glad you took a look at "Ivy", a film that may not be to everyone's taste, but is a film too few people know about in general.

      You're such an insightful observer of film, it's always a delight when you come back and share your thoughts with us. I really like your comparison of the "service" entrance scene with that sequence in "Imitation of Life." It displays a wonderful understanding of how something very powerful can be included in a film in the most subtle way. I was never much a fan of either film (and yes, you need to share your thoughts on Sirk), but you make me want to check the film out again.
      Glad you enjoyed the film and appreciate your coming back to complete the cycle!

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