A RAISIN IN THE SUN
Review by Michael Jacobson
Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands
Director: Daniel Petrie
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 128 Minutes
Release Date: September 25, 2018
Raisin in the Sun is
a powerfully simple motion picture…one of the most dramatic I have ever seen,
and one that finds its drama honestly, without a hint of unnecessary melodrama
to spoil the spell. Written by
Lorraine Hansberry based on her own successful stage play, this is a film that
boasts a superb and insightful script, brought to life by an excellent cast in
top form. It is a tale of dreams
and heartaches, of winning and losing, of families that manage to stick it out
together through thick and thin, through moments of crisis and joy.
characters are all richly drawn. Walter
Lee (Poitier, in an electrifying performance) is a man who sees his life going
nowhere. He has a job as a
chauffeur, but views it only as being a simple servant, with no chance for
betterment for himself or his family. He
dreams big, but dreams take money. He
longs to be someone big, not only for himself, but so he can someday give his
son the things his own father was never able to give him.
wife, Ruth (Dee), dreams a little smaller.
She would like to have a house of her own someday, and get out of the
little apartment that’s far too small for a family of their size.
The mother and sister share a bedroom, and her little son has to sleep on
a couch in the living room. She
sees nothing wrong with what Walter Lee does for a living, and constantly
worries that his endless dreaming is only going to bring him more hurt and
Lee’s sister Beneatha (Sands) is a young woman looking for some kind of
connection, both to her past and to her future. She plans on being a doctor, and one can sense from her
fierce sense of determination that nothing like lack of funding is going to
stand in her way. She also looks
back with great interest to her African heritage, listening to records of the
music and wearing the fashions, and even dating a real African man. Her actions throughout the picture are usually funny and
finally, Lena (McNeil) is the family matriarch. She is old and tired, but equally wise and strong, and still
manages to run her family in a firm but gentle way. She is one of the most appealing film characters I’ve seen.
story involves Lena receiving an insurance check for $10,000 from her late
husband’s company. I don’t
think the exact circumstances of his death are ever addressed; one gets the
feeling the man may have simply worked himself to death.
Naturally, such a sum of money offers great possibilities, along with
some problems. It means something
different to each family member. Beneatha
sees in it the opportunity for her medical schooling.
Ruth feels it means the chance to finally have a home the family can call
their own, where her son can have his own bed and a yard to play in.
Walter Lee sees in the money what he feels is his last chance to make
something of himself: investing in
a liquor store with a couple of friends. Lena
herself can see all of these dreams coming true, coupled with the sobering
thought of the price of a man’s worth: is
$10,000 really the sum of a man’s life and accomplishments?
is also a religious woman, who can’t see turning her husband’s life blood
into a liquor store. It is a rather
cynical enterprise, we see, as one of Walter Lee’s friends remarks that the
business thrives on weakness. One
may not have money to pay the rent, he muses, but he’ll find the money to buy
his booze. It’s not exactly a
lifelong dream for Walter Lee, either, but he sees in it a chance to be somebody
and be financially independent, and a way to provide good things for his family
for the rest of his life without having to be a meager servant for a pittance of
doesn’t seem that his dream is meant to be, however, for many reasons,
including the complication of his wife’s new pregnancy.
In a skillfully handled scene between her, Walter Lee and Lena, we learn
that Ruth has actually put a down payment on an abortion.
Lena forcefully confronts her son about it.
“She is going to destroy your child!” she screams.
“I want to hear you tell her you don’t want her to do it!” Walter Lee is so lost and confused at that point, he quietly
picks up his coat and walks out.
is more…much more to this rich and rewarding story than what I’ve touched
upon, but it really needs to be experienced first hand. What this cast and crew have created is one of the most
honest, compelling, and powerful family dramas ever captured on film.
Every moment rings out with feelings of love, longing, frustration,
despair, and hope, and touches that part of us that has experienced those
emotions at one time or another. These
people are so real that each one of them could be us on the screen, as we
identify with the fears and dreams that makes each one such an individual, yet
an inseparable part of a greater whole.
Raisin in the Sun is
simply one of the truly great American films.
It taps directly into your deepest emotions without ever resorting to
cheap melodrama to do so. It finds
the part of you that instinctively responds to what these people are going
through, and holds on to it for the duration.
If there’s a better looking transfer for an older black and white film on Blu-ry, I haven’t seen it yet. Other than the obvious youth of the cast, there’s nothing about this print that would indicate its age. It is amazingly free of telltale nicks and scars, and images are rendered so pristinely, so sharply, that it looks as new as anything you might see. If every classic picture could look this good, it would be utopia.
uncompressed soundtrack is in mono, but even it is lively and dynamic, and free of any
distracting noise (which you’ll really appreciate during the quietly intense
The extras include a 1961 with the playwright/screenwriter Lorraine Hansberry, new interview with author Imani Perry, a pair of TV excerpts with interviews with actors and producer, a documentary on the black theater movement, a new interview with film scholar Mia Mask, plus the original trailer.
A Raisin in the Sun is deceptively simple filmmaking, creating a picture that explores honestly the tensions within a loving family, and how they go about dealing with their conflicts, both internal and external. The screenplay is brilliant, the acting is phenomenal, and the overall picture is both powerful and inspiring. Apart from that, this Criterion Blu-ray may become the standard by which all transfers of older films are measured. Absolutely and unquestionably not a title to be missed.