Edge of the City 
Please join Cultivate Cinema Circle as we screen six films starring the late, great Sidney Poitier. Second up is Martin Ritt’s BAFTA-nominated (Best Film & Best Foreign Actor) film Edge of the City .
- Screening Date: Saturday, April 23rd, 2022 | 1:00pm
- Venue: The Mason O. Damon Auditorium at Buffalo Central Library
- Specifications: 1957 / 85 minutes / English / Black & White
- Director(s): Martin Ritt
- Print: Supplied by Swank
- Tickets: Free and Open to the Public
Downtown Central Library Auditorium
1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo, NY 14203
(Enter from Clinton Street between Oak and Washington Streets)
716-858-8900 • www.BuffaloLib.org
COVID protocol will be followed.
An army deserter gets a job on the New York City waterfront, where he befriends a black dockworker and butts heads with a corrupt, racist union boss. Martin Ritt’s first directorial effort was written by Robert Alan Aurthur, who adapted his television play “A Man Is Ten Feet Tall.” Sidney Poitier reprises his role from the TV drama.
- BAFTA Awards – 1958 – Nominee: Best Film From Any Source & Best Foreign Actor
“I never had an occasion to question color, therefore, I only saw myself as what I was… a human being.”
Courtesy of TCM:
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” returned Poitier to the familiar turf of “Negro problem” pictures, but with a contemporized twist: instead of battling the unabashed ignorance of racist America, he found himself opposite sophisticated Northerners played by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last film). The grand old screen duo played an ostensibly enlightened couple who find their liberal sensibilities strained when their daughter brings home her fiancé, an older, divorced doctor, who just happens to be Poitier. Again under Kramer’s direction, the picture parlayed the myriad pitfalls of the stark realities simple “love” still faced, given the country’s darkly drawn racial lines, especially at the zenith of the civil rights movement; the Supreme Court had just that summer struck down 14 Southern states’ standing laws against interracial marriages, and Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated while the film was still in theaters. The film’s heady discourse struck a chord, taking in a for-the-time whopping $56.7 million at the box office in North America.
But Poitier’s most dauntlessly cool performance came in “In the Heat of the Night,” a steamy neo-noir that set Poitier in the heart of the deep South – still so blatantly segregated that Poitier nixed location shooting in Mississippi, prompting the production to move to tiny Sparta, IL. Poitier played a Philadelphia homicide detective, Virgil Tibbs, initially accused of a murder in a hick Mississippi town, who then assists the local Sheriff Gillespie (Rod Steiger) solve the case. Under the deft direction of Norman Jewison, Poitier and Steiger played a dueling character study; a sophisticated black authority the likes of which the town has never seen versus an abrasive, outwardly racist yokel stereotype more enlightened and thoughtful than he lets on. The film also proved a hit, winning Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor (Steiger).
Poitier’s three films in 1967 made him, by total box-office receipts, the No. 1 box-office draw in Hollywood. And yet, even in the thick of his success, Poitier’s singular identification as the spokesman for African-Americans came with proportionate scrutiny. While he had embraced the civil rights movement publicly – he keynoted the annual convention of Martin Luther King’s activist Southern Christian Leadership Conference in August 1967 – some in the African-American community (as well as some film critics) began vocalizing their displeasure with the never-ending string of saintly and sexless characters Poitier played. Black playwright and drama critic Clifford Mason became the sounding board for these sentiments in an analysis published on the front page of The New York Times’ drama section on Sept. 10, 1967. Mason referred to Poitier’s characters as “unreal” and essentially “the same role, the antiseptic, one-dimensional hero.”
Although devastated by the attacks, Poitier himself had begun to chafe against the cultural restrictions which cast him as the unimpeachable role model instead of a fully flawed and functioning human. Sidney Poitier attempted to take a greater hand in his work, penning a romantic comedy that he would star in called “For the Love of Ivy” (1968), and attempting a more visceral representation of the travails of inner city America in “The Lost Man” (1969), but neither met the success of his previous films or effectively muted his critics. The Times’ Vincent Canby called the latter, “Poitier’s attempt to recognize the existence and root causes of black militancy without making anyone – white or black – feel too guilty or hopeless.” He also founded a creator-controlled studio, First Artists Corp., with partners Paul Newman and Barbra Streisand. But his damaged image, amid an up-and-coming crop of black actors unencumbered by his “integrationist” stigma, enforced a sense of isolation about Poitier, likely amplified by a falling out with his longtime friend Belafonte and his estrangement from wife Juanita.
Some of that oddly went reflected in an unlikely, blaxploitation-infused sequel, “They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!” (1970), in which he reprised his classic character to ill-effect. By 1970, Poitier had struck up a passionate new romance with Canadian model Joanna Shimkus and exiled himself to a semi-permanent residence in The Bahamas. He would make one more forgettable Tibbs sequel, “The Organization” (1971), but he would return to Hollywood in a different capacity.
With Hollywood now recognizing the power of the black purse, even for cheaply produced “blaxploitation” pictures, Columbia saw the potential for “Buck and the Preacher” (1972), in which Harry Belafonte and Poitier would play mismatched Western adventurers who team up to save homesteading former slaves from cowboy predators. Belafonte co-produced and Poitier, after initial squabbles with the director, was given reign and Poitier, after initial squabbles with the director, was given reign by the studio to complete the film in the director’s chair.
He produced, directed and starred in his next outing, a tepid romance called “A Warm December” (1973), which tanked, but he found his stride soon after back among friends. He directed and starred with Belafonte, Bill Cosby and an up-and-coming Richard Pryor in their answer to the blaxploitation wave, “Uptown Saturday Night” (1974), an action/comedy romp about two regular guys (Cosby and Poitier) whose devil-may-care night out becomes an odyssey through the criminal underworld. “Uptown” proved such a winning combo that Poitier would make two more successful buddy pictures starring himself and Cosby: “Let’s Do it Again” (1975) and “A Piece of the Action” (1977).
Poitier also returned to Africa and an actor-only capacity for another anti-apartheid film, “The Wilby Conspiracy” (1975), co-starring Michael Caine. After marrying Shimkus in 1976, he returned to the States most notably to direct Pryor’s own buddy picture; the second comedy pairing Pryor with Gene Wilder, “Stir Crazy” (1980), a story about two errant New Yorkers framed for a crime in the west and imprisoned. With Poitier letting the two actors’ fish-out-of-water comic talents play off their austere environs, the film became one of highest-grossing comedies of all time. A later outing with Wilder, “Hanky Panky” (1982), and a last directorial turn with Cosby, the infamous flop “Ghost Dad” (1990), proved profoundly less successful.
After more than a decade absent from the screen, Poitier made a celebrated return as an actor in the 1988 action flick “Shoot to Kill” and the espionage thriller “Little Nikita” (1988), though both proved less than worthy of the milestone. He would take parts rarely after that; only those close to his heart in big-budget TV movie events: NAACP lawyer -later the U.S.’s first African-American Supreme Court justice – Thurgood Marshall in “Separate But Equal” (ABC, 1991), Nelson Mandela, the heroic South African dissident and later president, in “Nelson & De Klerk” (Showtime, 1997), and “To Sir, With Love II” (CBS, 1996). He also took some choice supporting roles in feature actioners “Sneakers” (1992) and “The Jackal” (1997).
In 1997, the Bahamas appointed Poitier its ambassador to Japan, and has also made him a representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Poitier No. 22 in the top 25 male screen legends, and in 2006, the AFI’s list of the “100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time” tabulated more Poitier films than those of any other actor except Gary Cooper (both had five). In 2002, he was given an Honorary Oscar with the inscription, “To Sidney Poitier in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being,” and in 2009, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. trade, accepts one teaching marginal, troubled cockney students in London and reached them via honest empathy and by treating them as adults. Buoyed by the popular title song by Brit-pop star Lulu (who also played a student), the film became a sleeper hit.
- Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You (2013)
- Sing Your Song (2011)
- Tell Them Who You Are (2004)
- The Last Brickmaker in America (2001)
- The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn (1999)
- Free of Eden (1999)
- David and Lisa (1998)
- Mandela and de Klerk (1997)
- The Jackal (1997)
- To Sir With Love II (1996)
- Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1995)
- A Century Of Cinema (1994)
- World Beat (1993)
- Sneakers (1992)
- Shoot To Kill (1988)
- Little Nikita (1988)
- The Spencer Tracy Legacy (1986)
- A Piece Of The Action (1977)
- The Wilby Conspiracy (1975)
- Let’s Do It Again (1975)
- Uptown Saturday Night (1974)
- Buck and the Preacher (1972)
- A Warm December (1972)
- Brother John (1971)
- The Organization (1971)
- King: A Filmed Record … Montgomery to Memphis (1970)
- They Call Me MISTER Tibbs (1970)
- The Lost Man (1969)
- For Love of Ivy (1968)
- To Sir, With Love (1967)
- Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
- In the Heat of the Night (1967)
- Duel at Diablo (1966)
- A Patch of Blue (1965)
- The Slender Thread (1965)
- The Bedford Incident (1965)
- The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
- The Long Ships (1964)
- Lilies of the Field (1963)
- Pressure Point (1962)
- A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
- Paris Blues (1961)
- All the Young Men (1960)
- Virgin Island (1960)
- Porgy and Bess (1959)
- The Defiant Ones (1958)
- The Mark of the Hawk (1958)
- Edge of the City (1957)
- Band of Angels (1957)
- Something of Value (1957)
- Good-Bye, My Lady (1956)
- Blackboard Jungle (1955)
- Go Man Go (1954)
- Red Ball Express (1952)
- Cry, the Beloved Country (1952)
- No Way Out (1950)
“I don’t have a lot of respect for talent. Talent is genetic. It’s what you do with it that counts.”
Courtesy of TCM:
In a 1987 article in The New Republic, critic Stanley Kaufman wrote that Martin Ritt “is one of the most underrated American directors, superbly competent and quietly imaginative.” While his films generally revolved around moral themes and he did not develop a particular visual style, Ritt became noted as a superlative craftsman with a particular affinity for actors, stemming no doubt from his own long and distinguished performing career. Indeed, he guided a baker’s dozen of performers to Oscar nominations with three (Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas in “Hud” 1963 and Sally Field in “Norma Rae” 1979) taking home the statue. Born and raised in NYC, Ritt had originally considered a career in law until he was persuaded by Elia Kazan to work with the Group Theater. His Broadway debut was in the Group’s production of Clifford Odets’ “Golden Boy,” on which he also served as assistant stage manager and understudy to lead John Garfield. Over the next five years, Ritt worked steadily with them until he was called for military service in the US Army Air Force Special Forces during WWII. Utilizing his theatrical background, he appeared with the landmark stage production “Winged Victory” and made his feature acting debut in the 1944 film version of that play. After his discharge, Ritt made the move to directing with 1946’s “Mr. Peebles and Mr. Hooker” at NYC’s Music Box Theatre.
Television was in the flourishing of the so-called Golden Age and Ritt segued to small screen work, acting in over 150 live productions and directing about 100 others. His prolific career was curtailed by the government, however, when he was one of the many artists targeted as communists by Senator Joseph McCarthy. When CBS fired Ritt, he moved to teaching at the Actors Studio, where he numbered Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Rod Steiger and Lee Remick among his students. Resuming his directing career with stage work in the mid-50s, Ritt caught the attention of producer David Susskind who hired him to helm the 1957 feature “Edge of the City,” a gritty waterfront drama starring Sidney Poitier and John Cassavetes that earned high critical praise.
Ritt went on to demonstrate his skill as a meticulous craftsman capable of eliciting fine ensemble performances and of tackling important and controversial social issues in an intelligent–if sometimes heavy-handed–manner. Highlights of his career include the adaptation of various William Faulkner short stories, “The Long Hot Summer” (1958), which marked the first of many collaborations with screenwriters Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr; “Hud,” which helped define the emerging “anti-hero” (Paul Newman) and earned Ritt his sole Oscar nomination as Best Director, and “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” (1965), an adaptation of the John le Carre novel featuring a fine central performance by Richard Burton.
In 1972. Ritt directed the landmark “Sounder,” one of the first films to look at the travails of a poor Southern black family in a humanizing way. That same year, he also directed “Pete ‘n’ Tillie,” a middling romance teaming Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett. Ritt was perhaps at his most heavy-handed and on-the-nose with “Conrack” (1974), based on Pat Conroy’s autobiographical novel, in which Jon Voight starred as a dedicated white teacher assigned to an island near Beaufort, South Carolina where all the children are black and neglected. The director reteamed with Walter Matthau on “Casey’s Shadow” (1978), a light-hearted tale of horse racing before he tackled the biopic “Cross Creek” (1983), which featured Mary Steenburgen as author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Ritt’s swan song was “Nuts” (1987), a courtroom drama adapted from a Broadway play that became a vehicle for Barbra Streisand.
Ritt’s serio-comic film on the travails of blacklisted writers, “The Front” (1976), drew on his own experiences in the early 1950s. His “Norma Rae” (1979), for which Sally Field won an Oscar as best actress, championed union organizing, and his last film, “Stanley and Iris” (1989) inveighed against illiteracy. He also directed Sally Field a second time in the warm “Murphy’s Romance” (1985), which Rich also co-executive produced. Ritt threw in a few acting roles in his later years. He appeared in the German “End of the Game” (1975), and in a substantial supporting role in “The Slugger’s Wife” as a Casey Stengel-esque baseball manager. Passionately political to the end, Ritt died of heart disease.
- Stanley And Iris (1990)
- Nuts (1987)
- Murphy’s Romance (1985)
- Cross Creek (1983)
- Back Roads (1981)
- Norma Rae (1979)
- Casey’s Shadow (1978)
- The Front (1976)
- Conrack (1974)
- Pete ‘n’ Tillie (1972)
- Sounder (1972)
- The Molly Maguires (1970)
- The Great White Hope (1970)
- The Brotherhood (1968)
- Hombre (1967)
- The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1965)
- The Outrage (1964)
- Hud (1963)
- Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man (1962)
- Paris Blues (1961)
- Five Branded Women (1960)
- The Black Orchid (1959)
- The Sound and the Fury (1959)
- The Long, Hot Summer (1958)
- No Down Payment (1957)
- Edge of the City (1957)
Here is a curated selection of links for additional insight/information:
- Cultivate Cinema Circle info-sheet – link
- “Long awaited star status came at last to Sidney Poitier in Edge of the City in which he recreated the TV role of the Negro railway yard worker which had won him the Sylvania Award as the Best Actor on Television during 1955-1956. (On television, as the final production of the prestigious, fondly remembered Philco/Goodyear Playhouse, it was called A Man is Ten Feet Tall, the title by which the movie was known outside of the United States). The film, displaying Poitier’s special ability to create a character of nobility and humanity, marked the theatrical feature debut of both director Martin Ritt and writer Robert Alan Aurthur, who had perfected their respective crafts in the television vineyards. It also brought producer David Susskind to filmmaking. Poitier, however, was the only actor from the original teleplay to appear in the film (the TV roles played by Murray and Martin Balsam were taken in the movie by John Cassavetes and Jack Warden).” – Alvin H. Marill, The Films of Sidney Poitier  – link
- “One article in the promotional literature for Edge of the City noted the ‘uplift philosophy’ of the black protagonist; another article detailed Poitier’s rise from poverty in a story headlined ‘Optimistic Uplift Outlook Has Paid Off for Ex-Busboy Sidney Poitier.’ The actor’s image matched the values of the era’s progressive racial politics; faith, hard work, nonviolence, sacrifice. Dorothy Masters of the New York Daily News carried this connection between actor and character to even greater heights. During her original review of Edge of the City, she named Poitier an early favorite for best actor of the year. She considered his ‘innate perceptivity’ the foundation of his success. One week later, after interviewing Poitier, she claimed to fully understand his power: ‘Sidney had only to be himself.’ Like Tommy Tyler, Poitier possessed compelling warmth – he was ‘a philosopher who has arrived at an excellent adjustment to the world.’…After Blackboard Jungle and Edge of the City, Poitier had become one of Hollywood’s few established representatives for black Americans. Professionally, and personally, that position opened new possibilities, new responsibilities, and new tensions.” – Aram Goudsouzian, Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon  – link
- “Edge of the City is a fable of the mighty in spirit who have the power to rise above the crassness of their surroundings and become ‘ten feet tall.’ Stated baldly, the thesis seems perhaps too simple and naive. But in a time when group assimilation makes us seek indeterminate refuges of escapism and anonymity, Aurthur’s plea for individual courage and dignity is a poignant and gripping contribution. The most admirable character in the film is a Negro, magnificently played by Sidney Poitier. When this character is killed (sacrificed by the author to make the hero, Axel North, a man) the film begins to run downhill. The aftermath is anti-climactic because Poitier’s death is so piteously tragic that no great good coming afterward can possibly compensate…The weaknesses of Edge of the City do not include pandering. This is a rare film of high seriousness. Produced on a modest budget with a group of fine young actors, it represents a small step in the right direction.” – Jonathan Baumbach, Film Culture  – link