Cinema Slueth –The Boy with Green Hair

For review of all TV Shows / Movies in which the cast of Perry Mason TV Show acted in (Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale and William Hopper), go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A film though caused a lot of damage to the makers, sends a powerful message against War, Racism and Intolerance, all packed inside a little boy’s green hair. A story far ahead of it’s time and a hidden gem worth watching.

One of the other TV show that I love a lot and constantly watch the reruns is Perry Mason, American legal drama series, that aired between 1957 and 1966. So anytime I come across any of the movies or tv shows the three primary characters – Raymond Burr as Perry Mason, Barbara Hale as Della Street and William Hopper as Paul Drake – I make it a point to watch them. This is the next movie in that series of my blog posts in which we see Barbara Hale.

The Boy with Green Hair is a 1948 American fantasy-drama film starring Pat O’Brien, Dean Stockwell, Robert Ryan and Barbara Hale in the lead cast. Directed by Joseph Losey, Produced by Dore Schary and released by RKO Radio Pictures. This was the directorial feature film debut for Losey and was released in technicolor.

It is the story of Peter Fry (portrayed by Dean Stockwell) who is found by the local police and send to a psychologist Dr. Evans (portrayed by Robert Ryan). He tells Dr. Evans how his life began as an orphan, and the numerous people he meet in his life and the impact they had on his life so far.

The film was based on the 1946 story of the same name that was published in the 1946 Sunday magazine This Week and written by Betsy Beaton. Screenplay was written by Ben Barzman and Alfred Lewis Levitt. The story is told in first person by Dean Stockwell’s character Peter Fry.

Pat O’Brien who plays the role of Gramp Fry is well known for his radio appearances in several of the shows such as Suspense, Whitehall 1212, and other shows. He also was sought after actor in film in the 30s and 40s before he graduated to TV as his primary stage. Incidentally he reminds me so much of Jason Antoon who plays Ernie Malik on NCIS: Hawai’i. Don’t you all think so too?

Dean Stockwell who portrays the role of Peter Fry, makes his first film playing the title role. Losey expanded the thought of merely accepting all people into a universal symbol of peace with the boy’s green hair. Though it was a lot of responsibility, Stockwell performance tied everything well and was very moving. This movie certainly proved a success for Stockwell, for he went on to play on TV, stage and film for nearly 65 years until he passed away in 2021 at the age of 85.

Story goes that the then owner of RKO Radio Picture Howard Hughes tried to sabotage the film and remove the pacifist message and instead promote war. He had asked Stockwell to change his lines to promote war. But the 12-year old kid stood his ground and went with what the director wanted him to do even though Hughes was screaming at him. Ironically years later Stockwell would play the part of Howard Hughes in the 1988 American biographical comedy-drama film Tucker: The Man and His Dream.

Checkout the credits! Dean Stockwell is credited as “The Boy” in the opening credits and as “Peter” in the end credits.

Robert Ryan portrays the part of Dr. Evans. Tall and lean beside little Stockwell, he certainly comes across very strong. But he made his character as humble as he could for his size. His role is also brief, but has some longer lines though. 😛

Barbara Hale portrays the role of Miss Brand, Peter’s teacher. He describes her as “about the prettiest thing that he ever saw”. She sure looks mighty pretty in this film. She has a very small role, but does make an impact on Peter’s characterization.

It wasn’t a good film for director Losey and the write Barzman. Not only did the film tank at box office, and they had huge issues with Howard Hughes, they were also blacklisted soon after the film released. Sadly they escaped to UK to continue working in films.

However, we get some good melodies in the film. The open credits have the song “There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy” by an uncredited chorus singers. One of the scenes in the film has a background score of the song Nature Boy written by eden ahbez, and sung by a chorus of people who were not credited. However, in the summer of the same year, Nat King Cole had sung the same sng in his version which was on Billboard charts as #1 single for eight straight weeks.

Two more songs that has Pat O’Brien lending is vocals for with others are also heard in the film. First one is Tread on the Tail of Me Coat, a folk song sung by O’Brien and Walter Catlett. Second one is also a folk song How Many Miles to Dublin Town?, again sung by O’Brien with some boys Although O’Brien sings several limericks and little Irish songs all through the film. Here is the video of the second one – How Many Miles to Dublin Town?

The portrayal of the song How Many Miles to Dublin Town reminded me of a Hindi song from the 1968 Hindi, Indian language, film Brahmachari (= Bachelor). It is titled Chakke Mein Chakka Chakke Pe Gaadi sung by Mohd. Rafi and chorus of kids. Lyrics penned by Hasrat Jaipuri and Music composed by Shankar Jaikishan. Filmed on Shammi Kapoor driving his open-topped jeep with a bunch of kids sitting with him.

The premise of the entire movie is to show that war damages children, ruins their innocence and it is immensely anti-war. It also touches upon the hidden wounds such as racism and intolerance that come as a result of a war. It also sends a message of acceptance in the end.

A film though caused a lot of damage to the makers, sends a powerful message against War, Racism and Intolerance, all packed inside a little boy’s green hair. How a change of the hair color drives all three social evils to erupt is amazing to watch. A story far ahead of it’s time and a hidden gem worth watching.

Spoiler Alerts:

Movie Trivia:

  1. A comic strip by name Dondi that ran in newspapers from 1955 to 1986 also is about a boy who is a large-eyed war orphan.
  2. We see Dale Robertson, William Smith and Russ Tamblyn in the movie, but they are not credited. And this was Russ’s debut film.
  3. Russ and Dean went on to become life-long friends and worked together in several films.
  4. The cue ring, or dot which indicates to the projectionist it’s time to change the reel is green, instead of its usual black color.
  5. Note that Germany and Japan are missed in the list of countries that the war orphans want the message of “no war” to be spread.

Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

  1. In the beginning of the movie, Evans gives Peter a half hamburger. But when Peter grabs it, we see a whole Hamburger in his hand instead. And so does Evans eating a hole hamburger.

2. All through the film it is very obvious that Peter is wearing a green wig.

3. The chunk of cut hair around Peter’s hair appears and disappears between shots in the bathing scene.

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