Eliot’s "raid on the inarticulate," the entrance into adulthood as the exchange of one type of chaos for another. The central image is a sleepy 12-year-old runaway by the side of a busy highway at night, a tiny figure leaning against a drum and surrounded by horns and traffic lights like nothing so much as Kipling’s Junior Cheyne on the high seas. Recalcitrantly catatonic at the mental institute, the "defective" boy (Bruce Ritchey) is deemed "one of our most notable failures" by the tough-love director (Burt Lancaster) but doted over by the new worker (Judy Garland), a failed pianist "just drifting." Out of the leathery womb of a sedan’s backseat and into the makeshift community of a Thanksgiving play, a case study flinched at by the brittle mother (Gena Rowlands) and recognized at last by the seething father (Steven Hill). "You know, sometimes I think we should be treating the parents instead of the kids." Stanley Kramer possibly wanted a director like Robert Mulligan and instead got John Cassavetes, one’s patronizing plea for containing haywire emotion chafes against the other’s risky exploration of it. (The clash of old system and New Wave is already obvious in Garland’s entrance, as soon as the hospital’s halls are abruptly filled with real-life patients swarming around the nervous former MGM soubrette.) Communication is everyone’s hurdle, the camera—craning down to a peewee football game in the bushes, tracking overhead for a police-station reunion—is an unsteady mediator, music alleviates the pervasive dysfunction. "The Marivaux of an accessory slackness" (Rivette) and his kinship with McCarey (The Bells of St. Mary’s), the Cassavetes farewell to the mainstream, "the whole of the human being" and nothing less. Rossellini in Europa ’51 has the dilemma, The Miracle Worker and David and Lisa are concurrent, Titicut Follies evinces more than a few echoes. With Paul Stewart, Gloria McGehee, Lawrence Tierney, John Marley, Elizabeth Wilson, and Juanita Moore. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce