#352. Wealthy Superheroes

In the realm of superheroes, there is a certain amount of suspension of disbelief when it comes to how a hero obtained their powers. From alien lifeforms who found themselves on Earth (a la Superman) to regular people who encounter deadly energies that mutate them into super-human beings, most superheroes have unbelievable origin stories. Then there are the “wealthy” superheroes. They don’t really have any superpowers other than their intellect and a massive fortune bequeathed to them via their deceased parents who succeeded in capitalism and industry. While heroes like Spider-man are a little more relatable to the common man due to their financial plight being in the lower middle-class, these wealthy superheroes fight crime through an endless barrage of gadgets that could only be afforded by an endless stream of money. This week’s two films highlight some notable, wealthy superheroes.

BatmanBatman
Year: 1989
Rating: PG-13
Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours

Surprisingly enough, DC Comics has not one, but two wealthy superheroes in its lineup. Until recently, most people weren’t aware of Green Arrow, but the TV show Arrow has helped to bring this hero into the mainstream. Of course, this superhero pales in the name recognition that comes with Batman. Not only did Bruce Wayne grow up in the lap of luxury provided by his father, Dr. Thomas Wayne, but since both his parents were killed when he was young, he became the sole heir to the Wayne fortune. Because of the way his parents were murdered, his vengeance-filled vigilante attitude toward crime spurned him into crime fighting. While Bruce Wayne trained his body to be the superhero he is today, the money he has spent on gadgets, vehicles, and hideouts far surpasses the amount available to someone just working at a newspaper.

As Gotham City prepares for its bicentennial, many events are taking place to ensure it goes off without a hitch. The mayor has put district attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) and Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) on notice that they need to clean up crime in the city before the big day. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) is using his influence as a billionaire businessman to host a fundraiser gala at Wayne Manor. When he notices Commissioner Gordon excusing himself from the party, he goes out to investigate as Batman. Through Batman’s meddling, mobster Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) accidentally falls into a vat of chemicals and emerges as “The Joker,” bringing terror to the city in the form of the “Smilex” chemical. As people start dying with smiles on their faces, it’s up to Batman to stop The Joker before he can unleash the chemical on the bicentennial parade.

Iron ManIron Man
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours

In the superhero battleground that is DC vs. Marvel, if DC Comics has a wealthy superhero in the form of Batman, Marvel must have a corollary superhero to balance the playing field. While Tony Stark doesn’t have the tragic backstory that Bruce Wayne does, he is still the heir to a vast fortune accrued by his industrialist father. There are other differences as well, including Tony Stark’s focus on engineering to create his gadgets himself, as well as the technological advances that come via this emphasis that allow Stark to gain superpowers through his “Iron Man” armor. And while Bruce Wayne is hesitant to reveal his secret identity, Tony Stark is so much of a narcissist that he welcomes the attention he gains by being connected to the superhero known as Iron Man. In any case, Stark’s “superpower” would not be possible if he didn’t have the money to make it happen.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is so confident in the weapons technology of Stark Industries that he makes a visit to Afghanistan to show off their latest creation: the “Jericho” missile. Unfortunately, through some underhanded dealings, he soon finds his own weapons used against him as he’s captured by terrorists and held hostage. In the scuffle, a piece of shrapnel is caught in his heart and the only thing keeping it from killing him is a magnet in his chest. While his wealth and influence mean nothing in the cave where he’s trapped, he still has his intellect and uses it to fashion a suit of armor that allows him to escape. Once back in civilization, Tony investigates how these terrorists managed to get weapons from his company while also developing an improved version of his “Iron Man” suit to take down terrorists. Upon finding the mole, Tony must fight to maintain the integrity of his company’s name.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 very rich vigilantes

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#351. The Joker

Perhaps the most recognizable villain in the realm of superheroes and comic books, The Joker stands as a stark antipode to the brooding darkness of Batman. The contrast of insane levity to serious vengeance has made The Joker the best example of an archenemy, a feat that has rarely (if ever) been topped. For decades, The Joker has gone through a number of iterations and style changes, some of which have been notorious for their extreme take on the character. Similarly, there have been many different actors who have portrayed The Joker over the years, with a few of them being somewhat questionable in their interpretation of the character as well. While most people associate the quintessence of The Joker via Mark Hamill’s voice acting for Batman: The Animated Series, this week’s two films will examine some different performances of the character in live action films.

The Dark KnightThe Dark Knight
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours

Following the superhero movie format, after Christopher Nolan’s Batman origin story, Batman Begins (2005), Nolan proceeded to use the Batman franchise’s most recognizable villain for the sequel: The Dark Knight (2008). Many fans of the Batman franchise were upset with the casting choice of Heath Ledger, not only due to his somewhat recent role in Brokeback Mountain (2005) but because there were plenty of comedians who were considered for the role at one point or other. Considering he posthumously won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, these concerns were assuaged by the time the film was released. A similar controversy surrounded the casting of Jared Leto in the role for Suicide Squad (2016), but that controversy was linked more to how The Joker looked, rather than who was playing him.

During a bank robbery that seemed to go wrong, a gang of clown-themed thieves is whittled down until a lone clown remains: The Joker (Heath Ledger). The local mafias of Gotham find themselves in a bind with Batman (Christian Bale) constantly thwarting their criminal efforts. The Joker steps in and offers to get rid of Batman for the mobs in exchange for half of their finances. He doesn’t even want the money . . . he just wants to watch the world burn. To “level the playing field,” The Joker starts interfering with the trial of mob financier Lau (Chin Han), killing people until Batman reveals his identity. District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) says that he’s Batman, but The Joker sees through the ruse, thus providing the real Batman with a choice: save Dent or save his girlfriend, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). With The Joker in control of Gotham, only Batman can stop him.

BatmanBatman
Year: 1989
Rating: PG-13
Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours

Before 1989, the only version of The Joker to hit the big screen was Caesar Romero’s in Batman (1966). Using the same cast as the 1960’s television series, this Batman film was far campier than the dark and gritty versions we know today. While Tim Burton is known for his dark imagery, there was still a modicum of camp to his Batman (1989). Comparatively, though, the Tim Burton version did succeed in transforming the caped crusader into a much darker motif and helped evolve the franchise into what we know today. If anything, Tim Burton helped people to understand that comic books aren’t necessarily for children. At any rate, for many years, Jack Nicholson’s performance as The Joker was considered the definitive representation on the big screen, especially as it was faithful to The Joker’s origin story from the comics.

Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is in the crosshairs of his mob boss, Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) for taking his mistress. Jack is saved by Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle), who wants him as a witness against Grissom. Unfortunately, in the ensuing chaos, Batman (Michael Keaton) arrives and knocks Jack into a vat of chemicals. While most assume Jack is dead, he finds that the chemicals have altered his appearance, giving him a clown-like face with a permanent smile. This disfigurement drives him mad, and he takes on the identity of “The Joker.” Through the chemical known as “Smilex,” The Joker terrorizes Gotham, leaving many people dead with a hideous grin on their faces. Realizing the truth about The Joker’s past and origins, Batman sets out to save Gotham and avenge his dead parents.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 takes on a classic villain

#350. Dead on Release

A variety of reasons can exist for an actor to not be alive by the time their movie is released. Some actors are old and die from more natural causes (like Spencer Tracy, who died 17 days after the end of filming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967)). Others might be involved in accidents either on the set (like Brandon Lee in The Crow (1994)) or in the course of living their life (like Anton Yelchin from the Star Trek reboots). The entertainment community mourns the lives taken so early on in their careers, but many actors have died via suicide due to either their approach to acting or the pressure of acting influencing their decisions. Sometimes a mental illness that gives an actor their creativity can also drive them into a suicide as well. This week’s two films highlight some actors who died before their films were released.

GiantGiant
Year: 1956
Rating: Approved
Length: 201 minutes / 3.35 hours

At the age of 24, James Dean was a star to be reckoned with. In four short years, he appeared in a handful of uncredited roles, but he also earned two back-to-back nominations for Best Actor in 1955 for East of Eden and in 1956 for Giant. The trick with his nomination for Giant was that he had been killed in a car accident late in 1955, thus making this nomination the first of its kind to be given posthumously. Not only did Dean die before the release of Giant, but he also died before the release of his most iconic role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). One can only speculate the amount of prestige such an actor would have accrued over a lifetime of acting. Even with only three credited movies to his name, the American Film Institute still placed him as #18 on their list of 50 top actors of the last century.

Jett Rink (James Dean) is a farmhand who works for Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) on his Texas ranch. When Bick brings home a lovely wife in Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), Jett is immediately stricken with her. He helps show her the ropes of the property, thus inspiring her to change some of the living conditions for the migrant workers. After the accidental death of Bick’s sister, who also ran the household and had a spat with Leslie, Jett is bequeathed a small portion of the property. After Jett finds oil on his land, he manages to become wealthier than the Benedicts. Jett, still enamored with Leslie, eventually starts dating her daughter, which further sours the relationship between him and Bick. After realizing his children will not follow in his footsteps, Bick finally allows Jett to drill for oil on the remainder of the Benedict property.

The Dark KnightThe Dark Knight
Year: 2008
Rating: PG-13
Length: 152 minutes / 2.53 hours

Some actors die before their movies finish filming, leaving a noticeable gap in their performance. Actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman are noticeably absent from certain scenes in movies like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015). Some actors have their performances digitally completed and adjusted using CGI, or even sometimes completely created decades after their death (as was the case with Peter Cushing in Rogue One (2016)). While Heath Ledger had completed filming on The Dark Knight (2008), none of his scenes were altered after the fact by director Christopher Nolan. Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, but some feel his “method acting” approach helped push him over the edge via his role as The Joker. He is only one of two people who have posthumously won a Best Actor Oscar, the other being Peter Finch of Network (1976) fame.

After Batman (Christian Bale) has raised the stakes for Gotham’s crime-fighting, a new force has appeared to oppose him with a gospel of violence and chaos: the Joker (Heath Ledger). As Batman tries to rid the city of crime via his vigilante actions, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) tries to do so within the confines of the law. The Joker, having taken control of the majority of Gotham’s gangs, continues to escalate the situation to get Batman to reveal his true identity. Eventually, Batman finds himself in a corner as the Joker makes him decide between the lawful justice of District Attorney Harvey Dent, or Batman’s girlfriend, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). On top of this life-or-death decision, the Joker pits a ferry full of tourists against a ferry full of terrorists in a game of “Who will die first?” Batman, finally able to catch the Joker via an ingenious use of technology, must now retreat to the shadows.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 young actors gone too soon

#349. George Stevens

Modern audiences may not know about George Stevens or the films he directed from the 1930’s to 1970. Some of the names of his movies might not be familiar to them either, but many of these films are classics in their own rights. He worked with some of the best in the industry at the time. Cary Grant (Gunga Din (1930), Penny Serenade (1941)), Fred Astaire (Swing Time (1936), A Damsel in Distress (1937)), and Katharine Hepburn (Alice Adams (1935), Woman of the Year (1942)), just to name a few. By the end of his career, he even directed a film from his own production company, the Biblical epic, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Throughout his directing career, he earned many nominations and awards, but most people on the street probably couldn’t say why. This week’s two films highlight some of the greatest films directed by George Stevens.

A Place in the SunA Place in the Sun
Year: 1951
Rating: Passed
Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours

Throughout the early 1930’s George Stevens directed mostly short films and comedy sketches. By 1941, he had picked up his first nomination for Best Picture with The Talk of the Town. While he did not direct this film, he would earn two more nominations the following year, for Best Picture and Best Director for The More the Merrier (1943). His first win at the Oscars would come almost a decade later with A Place in the Sun (1951). This film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, but only garnered Stevens the golden statue for the latter category. The legacy of this film was recognized in 1997 as one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 films, being placed at #92. It is also included as one of the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, for similar reasons, not the least of which was Stevens’ expert directing.

George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) has not had nearly the amount of success his uncle, Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes), has enjoyed. When the two meet at random, Charles offers George a job in his factory as a way to help his struggling nephew. George takes to the work and finds himself being noticed by management for his good ideas. Consequently, Charles invites George to his estate for a dinner with high society. At the party, George is immediately enamored with Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). Unfortunately, George has already gotten himself involved with one of the factory girls, Alice Tripp (Shelly Winters). Alice senses George’s flightiness and informs him that she’ll expose him if he doesn’t marry her since she is carrying their bastard child. In a twist of fate, the courthouse is closed for Labor Day, so George suggests they take a boat out on the lake, knowing Alice cannot swim.

GiantGiant
Year: 1956
Rating: Approved
Length: 201 minutes / 3.35 hours

After his Best Director win in 1951, George Stevens would have another set of Best Picture / Best Director nominations for the western, Shane (1953). He lost that year to From Here to Eternity (1953) but would be nominated for the set again with The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), losing to Ben-Hur (1959) in that year. His second win at the Oscars was for Best Director with Giant (1956), which itself lost Best Picture to Around the World in 80 Days (1956). One wonders if the inclusion of Elizabeth Taylor in Giant helped to earn Stevens his Best Director wins, except that his last film ever directed was The Only Game in Town (1970), which featured Taylor but did not earn him a nomination. Following his film career, he founded the American Film Institute. One does wonder if the two top 100 lists produced by AFI were biased, as four of his films have appeared on them over the years.

Yet again, Elizabeth Taylor portrays a socialite in Giant as Leslie Lynnton. She is swept off her feet by Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) and brought back to his ranch in Texas as his bride. Now that she’s a part of the farm, she becomes involved in its operations, somewhat stepping on the toes of Bick’s sister, Luz (Mercedes McCambridge). In retaliation, Luz hurts Leslie’s horse and is bucked off to her death. As a result, the ranch’s handyman, Jett Rink (James Dean), inherits a small portion of the property. He has had feelings for Leslie since she first came to the ranch, but respected Bick enough to keep his distance. When Jett discovers oil on his patch of land, he becomes wealthier than the Benedicts, thus upending the social order between these two neighbors. His persistent requests to drill for oil on the rest of the Benedict ranch are eventually granted as Bick realizes his children will not continue his legacy.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous George Stevens classics

Bacon #: 3 (Shane / Alan Ladd -> Paper Bullets / John Archer -> The Little Sister / Kevin Bacon)

#348. Elizabeth Taylor

The rise and fall of an actor can almost be as entertaining as watching them in a movie. Somehow we’re drawn to the drama that unfolds in real life even more than the drama captured on celluloid. While we might often forget their successes, we can almost remember where we were during their failures. If there was one actress who practically started the tabloid newspaper business, it was Elizabeth Taylor. With her multiple husbands and a large box office failure with the expensive Cleopatra (1963) to her name, we often forget that, amongst a handful of nominations, she won two Oscars for her acting. After she left the film industry, she did go on to be known for such notable interests as jewelry and perfume, but many still remember her contributions to cinema. This week’s two films highlight the change from Elizabeth Taylor, the young actress to Elizabeth Taylor, the serious starlet.

Father of the BrideFather of the Bride
Year: 1950
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

Elizabeth Taylor first appeared on the silver screen at the age of 10 in the film There’s One Born Every Minute (1942). The next year, she would appear in Lassie Come Home (1943) in another bit part, eventually rising up to a starring role by 1944’s National Velvet. In the films leading up to her 18th birthday, Taylor seemed to be relegated to movies meant for families, including A Date with Judy (1948), Julia Misbehaves (1948), and a remake of Little Women (1949). Having already portrayed a bride in the aforementioned Julia Misbehaves, Elizabeth Taylor certainly understood the role by the time she was cast in Father of the Bride (1950) and its sequel, Father’s Little Dividend (1951). Ironically enough, Taylor herself was married for the first time in 1950 and divorced by 1951; the first of many.

One evening at an ordinary dinner at home, Kay Banks (Elizabeth Taylor) lets slip that she’s not only in love with Bucky Dunstan (Don Taylor), but has accepted his marriage proposal as well. While this announcement throws her mother Ellie (Joan Bennett) into a wedding planning frenzy, her father Stanley (Spencer Tracy) is more than just a bit uneasy about the whole thing. Kay finds herself having to conform to age-old traditions to help calm her parents’ nerves. After taking her parents to meet the new in-laws, she is soon approached by her father after the engagement party and asked if she couldn’t consider eloping. While this tactic was meant as a cost-saving measure by Stanley, Kay starts to consider it. When Kay’s fiancé lets her know the honeymoon will be a fishing trip, she calls off the wedding, only to be reconciled with her beloved before the big day finally arrives.

A Place in the SunA Place in the Sun
Year: 1951
Rating: Passed
Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours

By 1951, Elizabeth Taylor was able to shed her child-like roles and leave them well behind her as she began to develop in her career. One of the first films to start her on this path to stardom was none other than A Place in the Sun (1951). She would go on to team up with director George Stevens five years later for Giant (1956), earning her the first of many awards. While Taylor was married to six different men during her life, she was nominated for an Oscar only five times. Her first three nominations for Raintree County (1957), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) were followed by two wins for BUtterfield 8 (1960) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). While A Place in the Sun and Giant were included in the American Film Institute’s initial Top 100 list, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? managed to fill their spots in the 10-year anniversary of the list.

Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) is a socialite who meets George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) at a social event hosted by George’s uncle, Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes). While George does not have the immense wealth of his uncle, he is enamored by the high life, mostly because of his opportunity to be around Angela. Unfortunately, George is already tied down to a factory girl, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), who is pregnant with his child. Spending as much time as he can with Angela, George is purposely ignoring Alice in the hopes that she’d go away. When Alice learns that George has been with Angela, she decides to blackmail him into marrying her. When they arrive at the courthouse, they find it to be closed due to the Labor Day holiday, thus inspiring George to suggest they go for a boat ride at a nearby lake. Since Alice cannot swim, George has a dastardly plan to get rid of her. Will he go through with it?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 terrific Elizabeth Taylor performances

Bacon #: 2 (Winter Kills / Jeff Bridges -> R.I.P.D. / Kevin Bacon)

#347. Spencer Tracy

It is a rare talent to not only be a prolific actor but one who has appeared in numerous classics. Add to this, a number of Oscar nominations for acting and you’re left with an incredible legacy. Spencer Tracy was just such an actor. He excelled in comedy as well as drama, a challenging feat for any actor. Of course, one does wonder if collaborations with other actors and directors helped Tracy to truly shine. After all, it’s easier to act when you’re comfortable with the other people on stage, let alone the people behind the camera. Spencer Tracy worked with plenty of famous actors and directors over the years, but two individuals stand out as frequent collaborators: Katharine Hepburn and Stanley Kramer. This week’s two films examine the lengthy, varied, and oft-recognized career of Spencer Tracy.

                                                      Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Year: 1967
Rating: Unrated
Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours

Over almost four decades, Spencer Tracy managed to rack up an astounding 75 films to his name, often performing in two or more films every year. With this statistic in mind, it then becomes evident that Tracy enjoyed collaborating with Katharine Hepburn. The two of them starred in nine films together: Woman of the Year (1942), Keeper of the Flame (1942), Without Love (1945), Sea of Grass (1947), State of the Union (1948), Adam’s Rib (1949), Pat and Mike (1952), Desk Set (1957), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967). These nine films comprised 12% of Tracy’s career. While rarely acknowledged officially, Tracy and Hepburn were significant to each other, both on and off camera. Sadly, mere weeks after the conclusion of filming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Spencer Tracy died of a heart attack at the age of 67.

Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) is surprised when his daughter, Joanna (Katharine Houghton) comes home early from her vacation. Not only is her arrival a surprise, but the fiancé she has brought with her is unexpected as well. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier) is a black man, which gives both Matt and his wife, Christina (Katharine Hepburn) an uneasy feeling, even though they taught their daughter racial equality. Matt struggles with giving his blessing for the upcoming nuptials as he recognizes the interracial couple will have many challenges ahead of them. Through the convincing of his friend, Monsignor Mike Ryan (Cecil Kellaway) and his wife, Matt eventually relents as he realizes the truth of the matter: all marriages will have hardships, but what matters most is that the two individuals getting married love each other.

Father of the BrideFather of the Bride
Year: 1950
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

Considering the prestige that comes with being nominated for an Oscar, Spencer Tracy has racked up the most prestige over the years. Tied with Laurence Olivier for most nominations, Tracy received nine nods for Best Actor. After his first nomination for his role in San Francisco (1936), he would then go on to win the next two years via the films Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938). It then took almost a decade before he was nominated again. This nomination was for Father of the Bride (1950), at which point the nominations started to flow again for films like Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), The Old Man and the Sea (1958), and Inherit the Wind (1960). With Inherit the Wind, Tracy teamed up with director Stanley Kramer, earning himself two more nominations for the three additional films they did together, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) being slightly more auspicious than It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Marriage seems to be a favorite theme with Spencer Tracy films, as evidenced by Father of the Bride. No matter how much Stanley T. Banks (Spencer Tracy) could prepare for it, eventually his daughter, Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) would grow up and marry someone she loves. While he’s fine with it now, his anxiety affected the whole engagement process as he drank too much and passed out in the home of his future son-in-law’s parent’s house. Not wanting to spend too much money on this wedding, Stanley soon realizes that the whole thing is ballooning out of his control. Murphy’s Law is in full force as the clock ticks down to the big day, with last-minute reconciliations between the bride and groom merely mirroring the number of conflicts and problems revolving around the wedding reception at the Banks’ house. With the wedding now over, Stanley watches as his little girl drives off for her honeymoon.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous Spencer Tracy roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Mountain / Robert Wagner -> Wild Things / Kevin Bacon)

#346. Sidney Poitier

While the Civil Rights movements of the 1960’s led to legal equality of minorities, there was still resistance to their inclusion. Hollywood also had to undergo a transition in the light of these changes. Before the 1960’s, most people of color represented on the silver screen were mere stereotypes of the obsequious station many of these individuals could manage. Fortunately, right around the time these changes were happening in the real world, the film world had opportunities to shine a light on these changes via the talented work of Sidney Poitier. With a black man cast in such roles as detectives and physicians, no longer were these people of color relegated to portray “the help” in the movies. Poitier’s groundbreaking acting helped pave the way for many others, even if the film industry hasn’t changed as much as people had hoped it would. This week’s two films highlight some game-changing performances by Sidney Poitier.

In the Heat of the NightIn the Heat of the Night
Year: 1967
Rating: Approved
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours

Sidney Poitier earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor in The Defiant Ones (1958). This nomination was the first hint of equality in Hollywood, as his co-star, Tony Curtis, was also nominated for the award. Fortunately, neither of them won, since that could have indicated who was better: black or white. Five years later, Poitier would win his one and only Oscar for his leading role in Lilies of the Field (1963). This achievement broke the barrier for the award, which had been held by white men for over 30 years. Unfortunately, the streak of white men winning the Oscar for Best Actor would continue for another three decades, when Denzel Washington would win for Training Day (2001). Clearly, the struggle for these actors of color to find significant roles to showcase their talent has been an ongoing challenge and one that Hollywood seems unlikely and unwilling to change.

The murder of a Chicago businessman in Sparta, Mississippi leads the police chief, Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) to suspect anyone in the town who seems out of place. With no suspicious characters sighted near the scene of the crime, the local police eventually find Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) loitering at the train station. As the only suspect, Gillespie tries to get Tibbs to confess, only to learn that Tibbs is a homicide detective from Philadelphia. While Tibbs just wants to leave, obviously not being welcomed by the white population of the town, his boss tells him to assist with the investigation. This request is then emphasized by the widow of the deceased, who recognizes Tibbs’ competence when compared to the biased local police force. Despite the hurdles Tibbs has to endure, he eventually solves the crime and earns Gillespie’s respect in the process.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Year: 1967
Rating: Unrated
Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours

Integration was one of the problems addressed by the Civil Rights movement. Equality was a good place to start, but without these individuals being treated as equals in an integrated society, the whole point of the movement was lost. In one of his breakout roles, Sidney Poitier portrayed a student in a mixed race school in The Blackboard Jungle (1955), highlighting the negative (and erroneous) accusations that often befell black people based on racial bias. Unfortunately, the racial bias isn’t limited to the academic arena. One of the most polarizing topics for many decades has been that of interracial marriage. If anything, the acceptance of interracial marriages should be the epitome of equality and integration. Regarding Hollywood’s portrayal of this potentially hot-button topic, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) is the epitome of interracial marriage films.

Although the traditionally liberal parents of Joanna Drayton (Katharine Houghton) should have no ideological qualms with their daughter marrying John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), something about an upper-class white woman marrying a black man doesn’t sit well with them. While Matt (Spencer Tracy) and Christina (Katharine Hepburn) would want more time to talk to their daughter about this upcoming marriage, they are surprised with not only the fiancé but his parents as well. All three of them are coming over to the Draytons’ house for dinner as a chance for the two families to get to know each other. The time to question the engaged couple as to their thought process is short, as John is traveling from San Francisco to Europe via New York immediately after dinner, and Joanna has decided to go with him for their wedding ceremony in Geneva. Will everyone be accepting of this unusual arrangement?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 perfect Sidney Poitier performances

Bacon #: 2 (Sneakers / David Strathairn -> The River Wild / Kevin Bacon)