Film

Green Hair Is a Beacon for Peace in Wartime in 'The Boy With Green Hair'

The titular Boy With the Green Hair becomes something of a statement for the tumultuous feelings of Americans during World War II.


The Boy With Green Hair

Director: Joseph Losey
Cast: Dean Stockwell, Pat O'Brien
Distributor: Warner Archive
Year: 1948
US DVD release date: 2006-02-16

Joseph Losey's feature debut, The Boy With Green Hair aroused attention because it was such a peculiar little socially-conscious fable, emerging as it did during Dore Schary's brief, adventurous span as head of RKO, and in a period when postwar Hollywood was releasing more or less heavy-handed message pictures on racial and ethnic prejudice.

The opening scene gives a shock reveal: a bald little boy in a police station. This is Peter (Dean Stockwell), an ordinary American lad whose parents were killed in London during WWII, during which the film is set. In flashback, he tells a friendly doctor (Robert Ryan) about how he got shuffled among various relatives until he came to live with "Gramps" (Pat O'Brien), a singing waiter who's actually no relation to him. Apparently social services were very informal back then, especially in movies. Gramps may not have any legit claim, but he showers the kid with Irish-accented blarney and even gets a fantasy musical sequence with co-star Walter Catlett.

After making friends with the local kids in the classroom of beautiful Miss Brand (Barbara Hale, later famous as Perry Mason's TV secretary), Peter faces the repressed truth about being an orphan. In combination with dialogue he overhears about "the world blowing up" (the development of atomic bombs), his sense of trauma and loss triggers a psychosomatic reaction that turns his hair green -- if we try to explain it logically, that is, as this is never spelled out in dialogue. The door is also open to believe he's telling a whopper, since he does tell lies.

In the movie's most disturbing twist, friends and acquaintances instantly turn on him as an object of suspicion and difference, although Miss Brand helps in a sensible scene that implies a message about racial prejudice within an all-white classroom. This was the subject of Betsy Beaton's original 1946 story, although the film altered the focus to pacifism. The American Film Institute's website documents contemporary reports on the behind-the-scenes kerfluffle of interference from new studio boss Howard Hughes and the departures of producer-writer Adrian Scott and director Edward Dmytryk, who were briefly associated with this project after their successful Crossfire. Schary quit RKO before the movie was finished; the producer is Stephen Ames.

The film's oddest scene appears to be a fugue state in which Peter is visited by war orphans from the school's posters. They explain that his hair is the color of spring and hope, and this makes him a special messenger to tell the world that war is bad for children so that everyone should think of peace. The scene ends with Peter breaking the fourth wall and staring directly into the camera for a moment. Telling the world seems defeated by the movie's poster campaign, which implores "Please don't tell why his hair turned green!"

The green hair is such a beacon in this Technicolor film (shot by George Barnes) that it tends to obscure any well-meaning message about war orphans, no matter how obvious, in the script by Ben Barzman and Alfred Lewis Levitt. Rather, it becomes an agonized little movie about difference itself, and bucking the crowd by standing out in society. Although Peter capitulates to what his culture demands, he regrets it and hopes to grow up to be a troublemaker.

Leigh Harline's score leans heavily on introducing Eden Ahbez's mystical song "Nature Boy" ("a very strange enchanted boy"), sung by a chorus during the opening credits; it immediately became a hit for Nat King Cole. Also in the picture are Samuel S. Hinds, Regis Toomey, Charles Meredith, and David Clarke as townsfolk. Among the kids are Dwayne Hickman, Teddy Infuhr, Russ Tamblyn, and Richard Lyon and Ann Carter as war orphans.

The only signs of Losey's stylistic interest in composing actors within architectural structures are some business with the front stairs outside Gramps' second-floor apartment and the use of various house fronts to symbolize Peter's relatives. While Losey would be blacklisted and relocate to Europe successfully, Schary went to MGM and continued to produce message pictures for several years, including the mystical The Next Voice You Hear. To encourage the propagation of proud misfits, The Boy with Green Hair is available on demand from Warner Archive in a decent transfer; it could use an expensive restoration that it probably won't get.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.