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Hand in Hand (DVD Review)

18 Oct, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Sony Pictures
$14.94 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Kathleen Byron, Finlay Currie, Arnold Diamond, Philip Needs, Loretta Parry.

Now, here’s an odd case: a movie that quite possibly needs no introduction to students of the ways in which theology has been treated on screen — and one that likely does need some historical illumination for everyone else. Yet, it’s also true that anybody who followed movies more than causally in the ’60s may at least recall the title of this unpretentious black-and-white sleeper from Britain. It got superb reviews and even made some 10-best lists (more on this last point in a minute).

The picture is carried by two young actors you’ve probably never heard of (nor had I): Philip Needs and Loretta Parry, neither of whose careers stretched beyond the mid-1960s, when they both reached mid-adolescence. Needs plays Philip, raised as a Roman Catholic, and Loretta Parry a Jewish “Rachel” he meets in school when they’re both about eight. The two become solid friends and constant companions until other people, including Philip’s mother, begin butting in. The key negative perpetrator is a freckle-faced peer and likely itinerant thug who quotes his bigoted father (disdainful of Jews and Catholics) about the Jews having killed Christ.

Yet the movie sports a veneer of tolerance right from the get-go, given the neighborhood rabbi and priest we see schmoozing most everyday as a matter of course (sports fandom, as always, is life’s great equalizer). Though Philip is obviously shaken by the Jesus revelation, the young friends decide to visit each other’s house of worship on the same weekend. They figure that if nothing happens, it will prove that their relationship (which has even encompassed their own modified blood-brother ceremony) will trump any supernatural punishment they may ultimately suffer for being soulmates.

Both young principals are naturals and not at all “actor-ish,” with Parry quite the standout. She gives Rachel a disposition so appealing that any 8-year-old male would be smart to wait around for another decade — and through the torture of puberty — until they’re both of age. The director here was Philip Leacock, brother of Monterey Pop cinematographer Richard, and one who’d previously directed The Little Kidnappers, a movie about children that won a special Oscar for the performances of its kid actors (accepted for them on the evening’s telecast by Tommy Rettig, then the memorable star of TV’s "Lassie").

Hand must be one of the most modest movies ever photographed by F.A. (Freddie) Young, whose credits include Lust for Life and three David Lean whoppers, starting with Lawrence of Arabia. Needs and Parry — atop a feeling of general good tidings toward one’s fellow boy and girl — are what the movie has, and even seasoned filmgoers aren’t likely to recognize more than one or two of the supporting players. One of these (as an elderly news shop owner) is Finlay Currie, who at the time he died (in 1968 at 90) was probably the oldest regularly active performer in movies. Another — and this is a mild amuser — is Kathleen Byron as Philip’s fuel-on-the-fire Catholic mother. Byron’s most famous role was as the Anglican nun-turned-nympho in 1947’s Black Narcissus, which Criterion just turned into one of the year’s greatest Blu-rays this past summer.

The only thing that really bothers me about the movie is the disproportionate acclaim it got at the time, something that would never happen today in today’s more contentious era of film criticism (or what remains of it). English-language movies such as West Side Story and The Hustler from 1961 did get their due, but others didn’t — or at least not to the degree they deserved. When you stop to think that Hand in Hand got reviews as good as or better than, say, Splendor in the Grass, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, One-Eyed Jacks, it’s easy to see why film history would get turned upside down and be substantially rewritten by the end of the decade.

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