The Boy with Green Hair (1948)

82 mins | Drama | 27 December 1948

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HISTORY

In the opening credits, Dean Stockwell's character name is listed as "The Boy." eden ahbez' name is spelled entirely in lower case letters onscreen; according to modern sources, the composer preferred this spelling for religious reasons. "Nature Boy" was the only song he is known to have written. In addition to the indicated flashbacks, the film also used voice-over narration delivered by Stockwell. In mid-Nov 1947, Adrian Scott, who had just produced RKO's successful social film Crossfire (See Entry), was announced as this picture's producer. By late Nov 1947, however, Scott and his frequent collaborator Edward Dmytryk were fired by RKO for violating the morality clause of their contract because they had refused to "name names" during hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). Scott and Dmytryk became the first two members of the "Hollywood Ten," a group of filmmakers charged with contempt of Congress and subsequently blacklisted by the movie industry because of reputed connections to the Communist Party. In 1951, Scott was sentenced to a year of imprisonment after Dmytryk finally identified him as a Communist. Director Joseph Losey was also blacklisted in 1951, and this film is frequently cited as contributing to his image as a Communist subversive. For more information on the HUAC hearings, see entry for Crossfire .
       LAT reported in its This Week section that after RKO bought Betsy Beaton's story, it shelved the project for almost a year because of story problems. In a modern interview, Losey, who made his feature-directing debut with this film, recalled that he and Scott worked on the script ... More Less

In the opening credits, Dean Stockwell's character name is listed as "The Boy." eden ahbez' name is spelled entirely in lower case letters onscreen; according to modern sources, the composer preferred this spelling for religious reasons. "Nature Boy" was the only song he is known to have written. In addition to the indicated flashbacks, the film also used voice-over narration delivered by Stockwell. In mid-Nov 1947, Adrian Scott, who had just produced RKO's successful social film Crossfire (See Entry), was announced as this picture's producer. By late Nov 1947, however, Scott and his frequent collaborator Edward Dmytryk were fired by RKO for violating the morality clause of their contract because they had refused to "name names" during hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). Scott and Dmytryk became the first two members of the "Hollywood Ten," a group of filmmakers charged with contempt of Congress and subsequently blacklisted by the movie industry because of reputed connections to the Communist Party. In 1951, Scott was sentenced to a year of imprisonment after Dmytryk finally identified him as a Communist. Director Joseph Losey was also blacklisted in 1951, and this film is frequently cited as contributing to his image as a Communist subversive. For more information on the HUAC hearings, see entry for Crossfire .
       LAT reported in its This Week section that after RKO bought Betsy Beaton's story, it shelved the project for almost a year because of story problems. In a modern interview, Losey, who made his feature-directing debut with this film, recalled that he and Scott worked on the script with the screenwriters. Losey added that the original story was a fantasy about racial discrimination, but that its thrust was changed because he and his collaborators felt that a film about peace would be more timely and important. RKO production head Dore Schary said in a Jan 1948 NYT article that, contrary to declarations by "the leftists" and pressures from the right, the story was to be made as a "pro-peace picture" with "no change in subject-matter." According to HR , after Scott's departure from the project, the script was completely revamped for producer Stephen Ames. HR notes that The Boy with Green Hair was made as part of RKO's "experiment" with modestly budgeted quality pictures, the first of which was the highly successful Crossfire . In the modern interview, Losey stated that when Scott was still involved in the project, he wanted to shoot it in 16mm color stock to save money. Because Ames was a major stockholder in Technicolor, Losey added, he could obtain 35mm color stock cheaply, thereby making it possible to produce the picture in Technicolor on a relatively modest budget. (Contemporary sources give the film's budget as between $850,000 and $900,000.) Losey also claimed that Ames's status at Technicolor helped to overcome some of the company's artistic restrictions, such as not using dark browns or low-key lighting while shooting.
       RKO borrowed Stockwell from M-G-M for this production. Albert Sharpe, who played "Finian" in the Broadway production of Finian's Rainbow , was to make his screen debut in the picture, according to HR . Losey recalled in the modern interview that the part of Gramp was written with Sharpe in mind, but that RKO insisted that O'Brien, who was a contract star, be cast. Rusty Tamblyn and Dale Robertson made their screen debuts in the production. The CBCS lists Robertson's first name with its original spelling, "Dayle." In the CBCS, Peter Brocco is credited in the role of "Mr. Hammond #1," but it unclear whether he actually appeared in the film, as Charles Arnt is also listed as "Mr. Hammond." Losey stated that he used two cameras to shoot the hair cutting scene and had Stockwell wear three different wigs during the sequence. According to LAT , Stockwell wore wigs throughout the picture because the studio feared that he would be ridiculed in his private life if his hair were dyed green. NYT notes that to save money, primary sets from I Remember Mama (see below) were used.
       According to the Var review, Howard Hughes, who acquired RKO in the spring of 1948, demanded that this film be re-edited to remove the "tolerance theme," which he felt detracted from the entertainment value of the picture. A DV news item claims that Floyd Odlum, who was the chairman of RKO's board, actually ordered the re-editing and insisted that the only acceptable "message" was one for "preparedness." According to a 3 Aug 1948 DV article, new footage was to be shot to stress the fantasy elements of the picture. On 30 Aug 1948, DV announced that after RKO executive vice-president Ned Depinet and two members of the RKO board viewed the revised picture, Depinet decided to restore the original cut. The disputed footage, which cost $150,000 to produce, included new background music as well as new scenes. Losey added in the modern interview that "a few extra lines off screen were stuck in in an attempt to soften the message." Despite Schary's desire to release the film in mid-1948, Hughes delayed the release for six months, according to Losey. (Protesting Hughes's interference with this and other films, Schary left RKO in Jul 1948.) DV also notes that "Nature Boy," which is sung by an offscreen group, cost RKO $10,000 and was almost cut from the picture. As used, "Nature Boy," which was popularized by Nat King Cole in 1947, is an early example of a credit sequence theme song. The Irish folk song "Tail o' Me Coat" is performed by Pat O'Brien and Walter Catlett as part of a brief fantasy sequence. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
20 Nov 1948.
---
Daily Variety
28 Apr 1948.
---
Daily Variety
3 Aug 1948.
---
Daily Variety
30 Aug 48
p. 1.
Daily Variety
16 Nov 48
p. 3.
Film Daily
16 Nov 48
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Aug 47
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Sep 47
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 47
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Nov 47
p. 1, 9
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 48
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Feb 48
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Mar 48
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 48
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jan 49
p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
23 Oct 48
p. 4358.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
20 Nov 48
p. 4389.
New York Times
25 Jan 1948.
---
New York Times
30 May 1948.
---
New York Times
13 Jan 49
p. 26.
Variety
17 Nov 48
p. 13.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Dore Schary Presentation
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Gowns
MUSIC
Mus dir
Orch arr
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Script supv
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "The Boy with Green Hair" by Betsy Beaton in This Week (29 Dec 1946).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Nature Boy," words and music by eden ahbez
"Tail o' Me Coat," Irish traditional
"Gyp, Gyp, My Little Horse," composer undetermined.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
27 December 1948
Production Date:
9 February--mid March 1948
Copyright Claimant:
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
24 November 1948
Copyright Number:
LP2012
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
82
Length(in feet):
7,373
Country:
United States
PCA No:
13015
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In a police station, a sad, bald-headed boy, who has refused to reveal his name or utter a word, is questioned by Dr. Evans, an expert on "boys." Coaxed by Dr. Evans, the boy, Peter Frye, finally relates his story: After his parents are killed while doing relief work in war-torn Europe, Peter is shipped from relative to relative, until he is taken in by family friend Gramp Frye, an Irish-born widower living in a small town. Although at first wary of his new home, Peter soon comes to trust and respect the understanding Gramp, a former vaudevillian and magician who works nights as a singing waiter. Peter is unaware that his parents are dead, and Gramp, afraid to upset the boy, allows him to believe that they will someday return for him. At his new school, Peter makes friends quickly and later gets a job delivering groceries and joins in a clothing drive for war victims. Peter's newfound happiness ends abruptly, however, when a classmate unwittingly tells him that he is an orphan and compares him to a pathetic-looking boy in a war orphan poster on display at the school. Peter pretends to shrug off the painful news, but is filled with confused feelings about his parents' death. That night, he questions Gramp about death and war, and during their discussion, Gramp mentions that his wife loved to grow green plants, which she felt symbolized the hope of spring. Gramp then promises Peter he will have a surprise waiting for him in the morning. The next day, after Peter takes his bath, he discovers that his hair has turned green and assumes that ... +


In a police station, a sad, bald-headed boy, who has refused to reveal his name or utter a word, is questioned by Dr. Evans, an expert on "boys." Coaxed by Dr. Evans, the boy, Peter Frye, finally relates his story: After his parents are killed while doing relief work in war-torn Europe, Peter is shipped from relative to relative, until he is taken in by family friend Gramp Frye, an Irish-born widower living in a small town. Although at first wary of his new home, Peter soon comes to trust and respect the understanding Gramp, a former vaudevillian and magician who works nights as a singing waiter. Peter is unaware that his parents are dead, and Gramp, afraid to upset the boy, allows him to believe that they will someday return for him. At his new school, Peter makes friends quickly and later gets a job delivering groceries and joins in a clothing drive for war victims. Peter's newfound happiness ends abruptly, however, when a classmate unwittingly tells him that he is an orphan and compares him to a pathetic-looking boy in a war orphan poster on display at the school. Peter pretends to shrug off the painful news, but is filled with confused feelings about his parents' death. That night, he questions Gramp about death and war, and during their discussion, Gramp mentions that his wife loved to grow green plants, which she felt symbolized the hope of spring. Gramp then promises Peter he will have a surprise waiting for him in the morning. The next day, after Peter takes his bath, he discovers that his hair has turned green and assumes that Gramp is behind the "trick." Gramp, however, tells Peter that his surprise was a magician's scarf and takes Peter to see Dr. Knudson. When the baffled doctor suggests that Peter either dye his hair or cut it off, the boy refuses to consider either option and asks Gramp if he can stay at home until his hair returns to its former color. Eventually, a bored and lonely Peter dares to venture outside and, as he and Gramp walk to school, draws the stares of curious passersby. Although Gramp challenges the hysterical attitudes of his neighbors, some of whom believe Peter's green hair is the result of tainted milk, Peter remains the target of speculation and is ridiculed and ostracized by his schoolmates. Even after Miss Brand, Peter's kindhearted teacher, tries to ease the other children's fears by pointing out that only one child in the class has red hair, Peter feels rejected. That night, Peter tears in two a letter that his father had left for him to read on his sixteenth birthday and runs away to some nearby woods. There, after Peter gives in to his pent-up tears, he hears a young voice calling his name. To his amazement, Peter discovers all of the children from the war orphan posters standing, alive, in the woods. When Michael, the frail poster boy to whom Peter was once compared, suggests that his green hair is the "mark of something good," Peter bristles with sarcasm. Michael soon changes Peter's feelings, however, and advises him to use his unusual hair to call attention to the horrors of war. Following the boy's instructions, the now-inspired Peter goes from adult to adult, explaining to them that his hair is green because he is a war orphan. Peter's words fail to soothe the town's fears, and he is told that he is ruining the milkman's business because the people are convinced that his hair is the result of contaminated milk. When Peter is asked by various adults to cut off his hair, he once again refuses, stating that it has "meaning." He then returns to the woods, hoping to find the poster children there, but instead is chased by his male classmates, who are determined to cut off his hair. Peter escapes from the woods, but when he returns home, Gramp, who wants his foster son to be happy and carefree, suggests that shaving his hair might be the only remedy to his problems. Reluctantly Peter agrees to have his hair cut, but cries silent tears as the barber shaves his head in front of Gramp and a crowd of onlookers. Peter's brave tears cause Gramp and the crowd to grow suddenly ashamed of themselves. Although Gramp later apologizes to Peter for not supporting him, Peter runs away from home. Back in the police station, Dr. Evans gently chides Peter for not having more faith in himself and then returns him to Gramp, who is waiting outside with Dr. Knudson and Miss Brand. Feeling that Peter is now mature enough, Gramp reads from his father's torn letter. Written shortly before his father's death, the letter reassures Peter of his parents' love and asks him to remind people who might otherwise forget about the terrible price of war. Moved by the letter, Peter declares that he hopes his hair will grow back green and returns home with his proud foster father. +

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

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.