Lilies of the Field (1963)

97 mins | Comedy-drama | 3 October 1963

Director:

Ralph Nelson

Writer:

James Poe

Producer:

Ralph Nelson

Cinematographer:

Ernest Haller

Editor:

John McCafferty

Production Company:

Rainbow Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

The 14 Sep 1962 LAT announced producer-director Ralph Nelson’s plans for a film version of William E. Barrett’s 1962 novel, The Lilies of the Field, for United Artists Corporation (UA). Sidney Poitier was already cast as the male lead, and a “top female star” was anticipated for the role of “Mother Maria.” The 14 Dec 1962 DV revealed that Poitier was willing to accept a quarter of his standard salary, most of which was deferred.
       In his article for the 29 Sep 1963 NYT, Nelson stated that a “Hollywood producer” advised him to change the title, believing Lilies of the Field had no commercial appeal. He also advised Nelson to contrive a romantic plotline by replacing Poitier with Steve McQueen, and the elderly mother superior with a young novice. When Nelson refused to have the screenplay rewritten, film industry veterans recommended that he cast a major actress opposite the lesser-known Poitier. He instead chose Austrian theater veteran Lilia Skala, who worked in a New York factory between acting jobs. Upon receiving Nelson’s offer, Skala declined a role in the touring company of a hit Broadway show, even though the filmmaker could only pay her union scale. Haunted by the Hollywood producer’s advice, Nelson considered other titles, such as Piety in the Sky, Amen, The Amen Man, The Odyssey of Homer Smith, The Mischief Maker, and Mother of Mine, I’ve Run Out of Bricks, , the literal English translation of the Italian title. Nelson briefly considered Hallelujah, until ... More Less

The 14 Sep 1962 LAT announced producer-director Ralph Nelson’s plans for a film version of William E. Barrett’s 1962 novel, The Lilies of the Field, for United Artists Corporation (UA). Sidney Poitier was already cast as the male lead, and a “top female star” was anticipated for the role of “Mother Maria.” The 14 Dec 1962 DV revealed that Poitier was willing to accept a quarter of his standard salary, most of which was deferred.
       In his article for the 29 Sep 1963 NYT, Nelson stated that a “Hollywood producer” advised him to change the title, believing Lilies of the Field had no commercial appeal. He also advised Nelson to contrive a romantic plotline by replacing Poitier with Steve McQueen, and the elderly mother superior with a young novice. When Nelson refused to have the screenplay rewritten, film industry veterans recommended that he cast a major actress opposite the lesser-known Poitier. He instead chose Austrian theater veteran Lilia Skala, who worked in a New York factory between acting jobs. Upon receiving Nelson’s offer, Skala declined a role in the touring company of a hit Broadway show, even though the filmmaker could only pay her union scale. Haunted by the Hollywood producer’s advice, Nelson considered other titles, such as Piety in the Sky, Amen, The Amen Man, The Odyssey of Homer Smith, The Mischief Maker, and Mother of Mine, I’ve Run Out of Bricks, , the literal English translation of the Italian title. Nelson briefly considered Hallelujah, until he was reminded of King Vidor’s 1929 film of the same name (see entry).
       For the trailer, Nelson requested a sequence from the recently completed UA production, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965, see entry), in which actor Max von Sydow utters the phrase, “See the lilies of the field.” Studio executives refused.
       Principal photography began 27 Nov 1962 in Tucson, AZ, according to 30 Nov 1962 DV production charts. Nelson told the 5 Dec 1962 LAT that the entire picture would be shot on location, with “no art director, no synthetic sets.” Rather than renting office space at UA, Nelson used his “rumpus room” as headquarters. The 28 Jul 1963 LAT reported that Sidney Poitier fell through a farmhouse roof while filming a scene. He avoided injury by hanging onto a wooden beam, and apologized for delaying production.
       The 31 Jan 1963 DV noted that the film was completed in fifteen days on a budget of approximately $250,000. Nelson contained costs by casting himself as “Mr. Ashton,” and his secretary as one of the nuns. Lilies of the Field was reportedly “one of the few pictures made for UA in the last five years that came in on schedule and under budget.” The 6 Mar 1963 DV estimated the original budget at $270,000, and described the primary location as “a deserted ranch house.” In the 5 Jul 1963 LAT, columnist Hedda Hopper identified the secretary as Lisa Mann. The other three nuns were played by Pamela Branch, daughter of the production manager, and “Tucson housewives” Isa Crino and Francesca Jarvis. In her 8 Mar 1963 LAT column, Hopper announced the picture’s world premiere at the 1963 Berlin Film Festival that June. Poitier received the festival’s Golden Bear award for best actor. The U.S. State Department endorsed Lilies of the Field prior to its entry in the 1963 Edinburgh Film Festival, as noted in the 27 Aug 1963 LAT.
       The picture made its U.S. debut on 3 Oct 1963 at the Murray Hill Theatre in New York City. The 3 Oct 1963 Los Angeles Sentinel reported that Poitier arrived in New York “to complete his three-week, five-city” promotional tour. On 21 Sep 1963, the actor hosted a preview screening at the Astor Theatre for teachers and clergy. The “capacity audience” included approximately 600 nuns, and 250 Catholic priests and monks. The picture had already opened in Europe, where it was enjoying financial success. The Los Angeles, CA, opening followed on 16 Oct 1963 at the Egyptian Theatre. Reviews were generally enthusiastic.
       Lilies of the Field garnered five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Actress in a Supporting Role (Lilia Skala), Writing—Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (James Poe), Cinematography—Black & White (Ernest Haller), and Actor in a Leading Role. Sidney Poitier won in the latter category, distinguishing him as the first African American to receive such an honor. Ralph Nelson told the 20 Apr 1964 DV that the publicity generated by the nominations enabled the film to recover its costs over the previous several months.
       The picture also received Golden Globe awards for best actor in a drama and best film “Promoting International Understanding.” Other citations included the Protestant Interfilm Prize, a special award from the Roman Catholic Film Organization, the National Audience Board Award of Merit, a Writers Guild of America (WGA) award, the Golden Laurel Award for “Top General Entertainment,” the Parents magazine Family Medal, Seventeen magazine’s Picture of the Month (Sep 1963), the Scholastic magazine Bell Ringer Trophy (Sep 1963), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Applause Citation, and the St. Genesius Award from the National Catholic Theatre Conference.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
30 Nov 1962
p. 6.
Daily Variety
14 Dec 1962
p. 2.
Daily Variety
31 Jan 1963
p. 20.
Daily Variety
6 Mar 1963
p. 1, 11.
Daily Variety
26 Jun 1963
p. 3.
Daily Variety
31 Jul 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
9 Aug 1963
p. 11.
Daily Variety
12 Aug 1963
p. 5.
Daily Variety
12 Aug 1963
p. 10.
Daily Variety
3 Oct 1963
p. 3.
Daily Variety
14 Nov 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
13 Dec 1963
p. 12.
Daily Variety
24 Jan 1964
p. 11.
Daily Variety
14 Apr 1964
p. 13.
Daily Variety
20 Apr 1964
p. 2.
Daily Variety
29 May 1964
p. 2.
Los Angeles Sentinel
3 Oct 1963
Section A, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
14 Sep 1962
Section C, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
5 Dec 1962
Section D, p. 15.
Los Angeles Times
8 Mar 1963
Section C, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
5 Jul 1963
Section D, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
28 Jul 1963
Section D, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
27 Aug 1963
Section D, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
7 Oct 1963
Section D, p. 15.
Los Angeles Times
6 Dec 1963
Section D, p. 25.
New York Times
2 Apr 1962
p. 28.
New York Times
29 Sep 1963
p. 121.
New York Times
2 Oct 1963
p. 45.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Vocal arr
SOUND
Sd eff
Music ed
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod coordinator
Scr supv
Prop master
Head grip
Gaffer
Titles, opticals & processing
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett (Garden City, New York, 1962).
DETAILS
Release Date:
3 October 1963
Premiere Information:
Berlin Film Festival premiere: late June 1963
New York opening: 3 October 1963
Los Angeles opening: 16 October 1963
Production Date:
27 November--mid December 1962
Copyright Claimant:
Rainbow Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
1 October 1963
Copyright Number:
LP27725, LP27744
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
97
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

While touring the southwestern United States, Homer Smith, a black ex-GI, encounters five nuns attempting to farm some barren Arizona land on the edge of the desert. He asks them for a day's work and learns that they are East German refugees who have come to the States to claim the farm which was willed to their Order. Homer repairs their leaky roof and performs other chores, but the Mother Superior persuades him to stay on to help clear the debris from a collapsed barn. Although he is astounded to learn that Mother Maria intends for him to erect a new chapel on the site, Homer so admires her determination that he agrees to take the job if she can provide the materials. He also goes to work for a local contractor, contributing his pay to buy food for the Order and teaches English to the nuns. When the materials run out, however, Homer leaves. He returns a few weeks later, drawn by the urge to finish the chapel, and the townspeople, ashamed of their negligence, finally join in and help Homer. The evening before the bishop is due to arrive for the dedication, Homer leaves as unceremoniously as he had ... +


While touring the southwestern United States, Homer Smith, a black ex-GI, encounters five nuns attempting to farm some barren Arizona land on the edge of the desert. He asks them for a day's work and learns that they are East German refugees who have come to the States to claim the farm which was willed to their Order. Homer repairs their leaky roof and performs other chores, but the Mother Superior persuades him to stay on to help clear the debris from a collapsed barn. Although he is astounded to learn that Mother Maria intends for him to erect a new chapel on the site, Homer so admires her determination that he agrees to take the job if she can provide the materials. He also goes to work for a local contractor, contributing his pay to buy food for the Order and teaches English to the nuns. When the materials run out, however, Homer leaves. He returns a few weeks later, drawn by the urge to finish the chapel, and the townspeople, ashamed of their negligence, finally join in and help Homer. The evening before the bishop is due to arrive for the dedication, Homer leaves as unceremoniously as he had arrived. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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