Thursday, August 25, 2011

Judy Garland, actress

TCM's honoree today for Summer Under the Stars is Burt Lancaster. But in the movie I'm blogging about today, the person to watch isn't Lancaster, but his co-star Judy Garland. That movie is A Child Is Waiting, airing at 6:00 PM on TCM.

Garland plays Jean, a woman looking for meaning in her life, who has decided that the way to achieve it is to work with retarded children. The movie was released in 1963, so the language isn't quite what we'd use today. Also, 1963 was still in the era when such children were put in institutions instead of "mainstreaming", or slowing things down for people of normal intelligence and vastly increasing the amount spent on education with little overall benefit. But I digress. Anyhow, Jean has no real experience working with the mentally retarded, but she has energy. Dr. Clark (Burt Lancaster) knows that you need more, and this sets the stage for a series of clashes between the two as Clark, who is in charge of running the institution, tries to do things by the book, and Jean tries to do things by feel and usually against the wishes and better judgement of the equally well-meaning Dr. Clark.

Part of A Child Is Waiting plays out like a series of vignettes, much like a number of other institutionally-set movies, such as To Sir, With Love or Captain Newman, MD. But there's also one plot line working its way throughout the movie in the form of one particular student. We see that student, Reuben, getting dumped off at the institution at the beginning of the movie, after having been lied to about where he's being taken, and obviously quite displeased about being lied to. Jean takes a shining to Reuben, and Dr. Clark naturally thinks she's getting too close. If you get too close, you're going to get burned. Clark warns Jean, but she just won't listen. Anyhow, Reubin is the child who is waiting in the title, as all the other kids see their parents visit each week during the visiting hours, while poor Reuben is left alone. Jean tries to write to Reuben's parents to explain the situation and get them to visit, but as in Our Very Own a few weeks back, the visit doesn't go so well.

A Child Is Waiting is, as I mentioned, somewhat conventional, at least when it comes to the convention of movies that are vignettes instead of having one overarching plot. But that's not to say it isn't a good movie. I'm not a particularly big fan of Garland, and especially not her singing. She helps run the music therapy and plans the Thanksgiving recital, so she does get a chance to sing. But once again, Garland shows that, given a chance not to sing, she can actually act. Burt Lancaster is professional as always, and the rest of the cast is good, notably the children. A Child Is Waiting doesn't seem to be available on DVD, however.

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