Sidney Poitier Films featured at the Knick

If Sidney Poitier was a wine, 1967 would be his best vintage.

He was already a household name and had broken many “firsts,” but in 1967 he starred in three major films and was the top movie star of the year. To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are all classic films in their own right. When you realize this is one year’s work, well, it was clearly an incredible feat.

Poitier in Blackboard Jungle

Not bad for an actor who was at first rejected because he couldn’t sing, only learned to read well when he was in his late teens, and worked at erasing his Bahamian accent so he could land acting roles (his parents were from the Bahamas but were visiting in Miami when he was born prematurely). He was on Broadway early and at age 22 was already showing up in films. His 1955 appearance in Blackboard Jungle caught people’s attention, and his Academy-nominated performance in The Defiant Ones, with Tony Curtis, put him in the spotlight. He returned to Broadway to star in the first production of A Raisin in the Sun in 1959 and reprised his role in the 1961 film version. Then he became the first black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1963,’s Lilies of the Field.

At the 1963 March on Washington

Being a black actor in the 1960s meant that whatever Poitier did was interpreted through the civil rights lens. While he used his prominence to further the civil rights movement, he resisted some activism, which angered some of his friends. As his biographer, Aram Goudsouzian says, “Poitier’s rhetoric balanced between progressive politics and public appeal. He recognized his position as a spokesman and fundraiser, which suited his philosophical, nonconfrontational nature. He thus typically refrained from overt activism.”

 But Poitier was aware that every role he chose would be interpreted through a racial lens, and many of his roles address racial issues head on. While he received some criticism for being “too acceptable” in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, his role in In the Heat of the Night shows him facing down overt racism while struggling with his own sense of self. The film’s simple story exposes the complexity of racism.

Poitier featured in the Broadway premiere of A Raisin in the Sun

As always, when we select these films, we struggle over which ones to select. It was a struggle to pass on The Defiant Ones, while it seems like we had to choose Lilies of the Field since he won the Oscar for that performance. We open with A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s incredible play that Poitier starred in both on stage and film. Personally, In the Heat of the Night is one of my all-time favorite films, so I was fighting for that one at the outset. And while it is starting to feel dated, it is hard to pass up Poitier, Hepburn, and Tracy (all Oscar winners) together in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Having conquered the acting world, he became a successful director (Stir Crazy) and continues to receive honors. He was Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974, and President Obama presented him with the highest civilian award in the U.S., the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Most recently, in 2016, he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts).

We hope you join us as these classics return to the big screen as part of our One Night Only series. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. and cost just $5.

November 20
Nov. 27
December 4
December 11

Cary Grant Focus for the One Night Only Series

He was once told by an interviewer  “Everybody would like to be Cary Grant.” He replied, “So would I.”

cary grantAnd such is the quandary for an actor who becomes larger than himself. Grant is the classic leading man, yet difficult to pin down. His comic timing is impeccable (see His Girl Friday), yet Hitchcock finds the man beyond the handsome face (see North by Northwest). A British-born actor who became an American citizen and had an accent that was a conglomeration of influences. His career in movies expanded over three decades and the American Film Institute named him the second greatest male star of the Golden Age of Hollywood, yet he never won an Academy award.

So what makes him different from so many other leading men? New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael thinks it has to do with that hesitant nature.  She notes that “in His Girl Friday, he’s unabashed about everything in the world except why he doesn’t want Rosalind Russell to go off with Ralph Bellamy. He isn’t weak, yet something in him makes him hold back—and that something…makes him more exciting.”

Apparently, a lot of people found him exciting. He was married five times and with Dyan Cannon he had his only child, a daughter. He was 62 at the time and retired from filmmaking in 1966 to focus on his daughter. Maybe family was so important to him since he lost a number of relatives in the bombing of Bristol by the Nazis. Or maybe he did not want to be a fading star, choosing to leave films when he was still in demand. Either way, he left behind an incredible list of films.

So, how did we choose which ones to show?

The iconic shot from "North by Northwest"
The iconic shot from “North by Northwest”

I would like to say we poured over hours upon hours of films, consulted a number of leading film critics, and settled on the four essentials. But, actually, we wanted a Christmas movie, but not one we always see on television 24 hours a day (e.g. Christmas Story, It’s A Wonderful Life). The Bishop’s Wife (1947) was suggested, and the Cary Grant series was created.

The Bishop's Wife paper doll set!
The Bishop’s Wife paper doll set!

Personally, I pushed for His Girl Friday (1940) and Bringing Up Baby (1938), two of my favorites. But then we wanted to fit in one of his Hitchcock films and settled on North by Northwest (1959). Then there is the star-filled The Philadelphia Story (1940) with Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart — hard to pass that up. So out went Bringing Up Baby (with Katherine Hepburn) and the lineup was set. Yes, we had to pass up on his first starring role in a film, with Mae West. Or the classic, Arsenic and Old Lace, which he hated and Houseboat with Sophia Loren, whom he loved, but, alas, was not loved back. No on Notorious and To Catch a Thief? Ouch. Still, we think you’ll agree we have four great films to see on the big screen (maybe once again, maybe for the first time — we won’t ask).

North by Northwest (Nov. 21)
His Girl Friday (Nov. 28)
The Philadelphia Story (Dec. 5)

The Bishop’s Wife (Dec. 12)

And, I got to keep His Girl Friday, which has two of my all-time favorite scenes

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday"
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday”( and Russell in his office and then at the prison newsroom — I’m laughing as I write this).( and Russell in his office and then at the prison newsroom — I’m laughing as I write this).

(Grant and Russell in his office and then at the prison newsroom — I’m laughing as I write this).

Tell us what we missed? What we did right? Other ideas for our One Night Only series? But most of all, come and see the films. It is how we know we are on the right track.

Interesting Facts About Cary Grant to Impress Your Film Friends

(from IMDB)

 

Donated his entire salary for Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) ($100,000) to the U.S. War Relief Fund.

He never said “Judy, Judy, Judy” in the movies, which he credits to Larry Storch, but he did say “Susan, Susan, Susan” in Bringing Up Baby (1938).

Turned down roles opposite Audrey Hepburn in both Roman Holiday (1953) and Sabrina (1954). He also turned down the role of James Bond, saying he was too old, although the part was partly created with him in mind.

In His Girl Friday (1940), his character remarks, “Archie Leach said that,” a reference to his real name.

He never played a villain.

Always cited his To Catch a Thief (1955) co-star Grace Kelly as his favorite leading lady. He attended her state funeral in 1982 and wept throughout the televised service.

In case you are checking, we also stole some of this information from the ultimate source, Wikipedia.

 Derek Emerson
Director of Public Affairs and Events

Welcome to the Knickerbocker Film Series Blog

130618Knickerbocker009Welcome to the Knickerbocker Film Blog!

We’ve created the blog to give us some space to explore the films we show, hear from other film fans, and, basically, find a new way to celebrate the celluloid film (or digital film — we’ll cover that in a future blog).

If you are not familiar with us, the Knickerbocker Theatre is a historic venue in downtown Holland, Michigan owned and operated by Hope College. In addition to year-round live events, we also do three film series each year (winter, spring, and fall) with four independent or international films. 7:30pm is our usual starting time.

We also have a “One Night Only” series where we focus on one actor, director,150330KnickerbockerSign003 or genre over four weeks. In the past, we’ve looked at Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman, and Famous Couples. In the summer we host four free family films on Thursday evenings where we throwback to some classics we all love, such as Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride, and The Goonies.

091013KnickerbockerTheatre007There are many great reasons to spend some time with us. Our ticket prices are reasonable and our concessions are actually delicious and inexpensive. No $40 tab when you have popcorn and soda while watching a movie with us! We have friendly students helping with tickets, concessions, and often running the movies. We also always have one of our Events and Conferences Office staff hanging around (and most of them are friendly). And, we do all this in a historic theatre!

So, this is just our way of saying welcome!

We would love your comments on our blog or our films. Suggestions? We’ll take them.

Derek Emerson
Director of Public Affairs and Events