A Child is Waiting (1963)

a child is waiting

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Help for retarded children.

Jean Hanson (Judy Garland) is a woman looking for direction in her life. She takes a job with Dr. Matthew Clark (Burt Lancaster) who runs a school for children with mental handicaps. She finds the work to be more taxing than expected, but also forms a strong attachment to one of the boys named Reuben Widdicombe (Bruce Ritchey).  Dr. Clark notices this bonding and considers it to be a potential problem so his has Jean moved to another building, which causes Reuben to become very upset and displays his anger in all sorts of anti-social ways.

This film is raw and compelling and offering a refreshingly vivid non-sanitized look into work with the mentally handicapped. Director John Cassavetes and screenwriter Abby Mann take off all of the Hollywood gloss and shows things in a real and uncompromising way. The majority of the children are disabled and not actors. Their responses and behaviors are genuine. Some of the best moments are when Cassavetes turns on the camera and then just let things happen particularly when Garland and Lancaster visit a hospital for mentally handicapped adults as well as when they put on a play celebrating Thanksgiving with the children as the performers.

The film is tastefully done and avoids showing some of the cruelties people with these disabilities go through and instead only talks about them lightly. What I really liked though was that it shows things from the adult perspective particularly those of the parents and the difficult adjustment they have as well as the array of emotions. The meeting between a group of doctors discussing which schools for which handicapped children should be given more money and which one of them had a better potential to being more self-sufficient was equally interesting. The movie also makes great use of silence to help propel the emotion and thankfully keeps the music to a minimum.

Garland was a good choice simply for her perpetual look of concern on her face, which remains throughout. However, she has a very worn and haggard appearance and looking much older than the forty years that she was and by looking at her here it should come as no surprise that a mere seven years after filming this she would be dead.

Lancaster is splendid and this may be one of his best roles of his already illustrious career. His soothing and calm voice is perfect for the part and his best moment comes when he patiently tries to teach the children how to correctly annunciate certain words.

Ritchey is good as the child and has a face that is very cute and full of expression. However, he seems to suffer from a severe speech impediment that makes it difficult to understand what he is saying. I wasn’t sure if he suffered from this in real-life, or it was just done for the part, but since he never appeared in any other film role makes me believe that he did.

Steven Hill is also superb playing Reuben’s father a man who turned his back on his son and virtually abandoned him when he was diagnosed as being mentally handicapped only to at the very end have a change of heart.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 14, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John Cassavetes

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS

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