Talkie of the Week: The Boy with Green Hair
USA 1948, 82 minutes, color, RKO Radio Pictures. Director: Joseph Losey, Story: Betsy Beaton, Screenplay: Ben Barzman and Alfred Lewis Levitt. Cast: Pat O’Brien, Robert Ryan, Barbara Hale, Dean Stockwell and Richard Lyon
Plot summary: Peter Fry is being handed down from one relative to the next until he finally finds a home with ex-vaudevillian Gramp. Peter doesn’t know he’s a war orphan until his teacher Miss Brand tells him so. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Peter’s hair suddenly turns green…
Review: The Boy With Green Hair is a film for children and adults alike. Especially popular in post-war Great Britain, the film’s pacifist message still rings true today. Shot in technicolor to emphasize the stunning effect Peter’s changing hair color has on him and his surrounding peers, the film has not lost its touch. Blessed with a stellar cast, the war topic may sound daunting to an entertainment-thirsty audience of the 2010s, but it is worth seeing this often praised gem.
Dean Stockwell, The Thin Man‘s Nick Charles Jr. who would later find success on shows like Quantum Leap or Battlestar Galactica, gives a gripping performance as war orphan Peter Fry whose hair suddenly turns green over night. The way he struggles first with himself and then with almost everybody surrounding him is convincing and deeply touching. He is supported by an equally moving Pat O’Brien whose Gramp supports Peter with a little help from the boy’s charming teacher Miss Brand, beautifully played by RKO starlet Barbara Hale.
The Boy With Green Hair is a memorable example of an imaginative movie of the late 1940s. The topic reflects the Zeitgeist of an era that was deeply haunted in the aftermath of WWII. It has often been said that this film was ahead of its time and foreshadowed the 60s. I disagree inasmuch as this film tackles the war topic with imagination and a deep craving for tolerance and change that had already been visible in other films of the 1940s and its preceding decade(s). The Boy With Green Hair doesn’t spell out its message in a way comparable films of the 1960s or 70s do (and sometimes splendidly so), but it rather merges reality with fantasy. It shows the effects and evils of war from a child’s point of view.
The Boy With Green Hair is not a film you will watch and forget. It will touch your heart and trigger questions you may not find an easy answer to. Take the chance to watch this with your kids today and you’ll be surprised how little certain questions have changed.
Available on DVD. The Boy with Green Hair feature film