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January 23, 2006

The Boy with Green Hair


Joseph Losey - 1948
Terra Entertainment DVD

While I have generally been a fan of the films of Joseph Losey, I realized that my familiarity was exclusively with his British films, beginning with Time Without Pity. Losey's debut feature, The Boy with Green Hair is the only one of his American films available on DVD at this time. For a film that was shot in technicolor for the major plot point, it is unfortunate that the version available is a lousy transfer done from a washed out videotape. As Losey will probably be remembered best for films starring Dirk Bogarde tossing off dialogue by Harold Pinter, a film taking place in small town America seems odd until you remember that Losey was originally from La Crosse, Wisconsin.

It is worth noting that The Boy with Green Hair was released in November 1948, about a year after the House of Un-American Activities investigation of Communist influence in Hollywood began. The film was produced at RKO, which was owned by Howard Hughes. In spite of the obvious liberal sentiments of Boy, the film was released as scheduled unlike other RKO films of that time that Hughes would temporarily shelve (They Live By Night) or re-worked (Vendetta).

While the title gives away the major plot point, the film is an anti-war parable. Dean Stockwell is the orphan who discovers a greater sense of self, and takes it upon himself to remind everyone he meets about how war victimizes children. The film's sentiments are indicated early in the film when the camera pans across a series of posters reminding us not to forget the children of Yugoslavia or Greece. Stockwell encounters these poster children in a dream. Except for an Asian baby, this vision of misery is Euro-centric. If the vehicle for the message is dated in some ways, the message itself is still worth remembering. To the best of my knowledge, the only Hollywood filmmaker who tried to pick up where Losey's film ended was Angelina Jolie with the undervalued Beyond Borders. (I am giving Ms. Jolie auteur credit here based on her humanitarian activities.

In addition to Losey, screenwriter Ben Barzman was blacklisted a couple of years following the release of Boy. The cast includes Pat O'Brien, the up and coming Robert Ryan, future Perry Mason gal Barbara Hale, the future Dobie Gillis, Dwayne Hickman, and perennial sidekick Regis Toomey. The film begins oddly enough with a chorus singing Nature Boy.

One can see bits of future Losey in his first film. Dean Stockwell's sense of peril would be revisited in Losey remake of M and Mr. Klein. Political idealism versus pragmaticism would also figure in several Losey films such as King and Country. Losey's last major commercial and critical success, The Go-Between would feature a boy who acts as a messenger in the adult world.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 23, 2006 03:07 PM