• Pressure Point



    Released by Olive Films
    Released on: February 16, 2016
    Directed by: Hubert Cornfield
    Cast: Sidney Poitier, Bobby Darin, Peter Falk
    Year: 1962
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    The Movie:

    A young psychiatrist (Peter Falk) is at his wit’s end. He cannot make any headway with a young African-American patient. The psychiatrist believes his patient’s hatred towards white people is preventing a break through. The psychiatrist asks his superior (Sidney Poitier) to remove him from the case and if a change is not made he will quit. The elder superior denies the request and relates to the doctor a past patient of his own, an angry young man he treated in the 1940s. The elder psychiatrist revels he too faced a patient whom hated others, as his patient was a member of the American Nazi Party.

    Pressure Point may have been directed by Hubert Cornfield but it has all the trappings of an entry in the filmography of the producer, Stanley Kramer. Pressure Point is a “message film”, also known as “social problem film”, a genre where the narrative is built around a social issue of the day. Kramer made many “message films” as a producer and director in the 1950s and 1960s; two of his films, The Defiant Ones and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, focused on race. Pressure Point was released in 1962, sandwiched between the two more famous films, during a time when organizations like CORE and SNCC were conducting voter registrations projects and James Meredith was becoming the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi. Race, however, is not the only issue tackled as psychology plays a vital role in Pressure Point. Being a work on psychology, the film looks at Freudian concepts and Oedipus complex to describe the hatred and psychological issues facing Poitier’s young patient (Bobby Darin). As with most “message films”, one must look at how well the filmmakers undertook the social problems presented in the film. Did the film successfully say anything regarding race or psychology that was impactful or deep? In the case of Pressure Point, the answer would be no. Cornfield and Kramer essentially say Darin’s problems are due to a drunk father, a vaguely incestualized mother, and an up-tight Jewish father whom forbid his daughter from dating Darin. While I understand how parents like his would lead to psychological damage, I feel becoming a Nazi because of a broken date with a Jewish girl is quite a leap. Further, I feel the filmmakers were more interested in reenacting moments from the patient’s childhood rather trying to understand the impact said events had on his psyche. The film seems satisfied with showing a poor childhood and saying this is why he is bad rather than attempting to dissect the childhood’s meaning. After all it is easier to show something than try to understand it. For example, the mother’s obvious attraction to the patient as a child leads to nothing, for example no resentment towards women, it is just another screwed up piece of his childhood. This issue is not unique to Pressure Point, it is common in many “message films”, especially those made by Stanley Kramer.

    Despite the superficial nature of Darin’s childhood flashbacks, they were filmed rather creatively. Cornfield and Kramer place the adult Darin and Poitier in the action. The duo look-on as a child actor portraying the patient as a boy interacts with parents and friends. This gave the scenes a feeling reminiscent to Dicken’s A Christmas Carol with Poitier embodying the Ghost of Christmas Past. Additionally, filming the flashbacks in this manner replicates the objective nature of the psychiatry profession. Placing the “present” version of Darin’s character in the “past” gives the audience the feeling of seeing the events as how they actually happened. Darin, presented in the film as a liar, becomes a reliable narrator in these moments. This delicate balance, a reliable liar, is probably the most successful element of Pressure Point.

    Ernest Haller’s noir influenced cinematography is also a praiseworthy element of the film. 1962 was a strong year for Haller, along with this film, he would garner an Academy Award nomination for his work on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. Frequent Kramer collaborator, Frederic Knudtson’s editing was also quite good. Knudtson utilized jump cuts in time and space well. This film’s sound design was also noteworthy when, during the flashbacks, Darin’s voice was dubbed by a child. While this trick is just that, a trick, it was rather shocking when it happened for the first time.

    Pressure Point is similar to many “message films”, it presents an issue but does not truly explore it. The film is technically well made with strong performances but ultimately is a shallow experience that appeals to the sensibilities of those with middle-brow tastes. While I enjoyed seeing Peter Falk, his framing story was unnecessary. The film never really delved into how Poitier made it possible to work with a racist, so I am unclear how his retelling of it would help Falk’s case. In addition, the framing device allowed for flashbacks within flashbacks to occur, which meant we are seeing Darin’s story through Poitier’s lens. There is also the issue that the scenes set in the 1920s and 1930s (Darin’s childhood) never looked period. The sessions with Poitier had a tangential 1940s atmosphere, an FDR picture on the wall, the use of stock footage of Nazi rallies, but the 1920s and 30s’ scenes felt like the 1960s in costume and set design. The film also pulls the cheap stunt of not naming characters, because they could be anyone.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Pressure Point’s Blu-ray debut comes to us from Olive Films and is presented in a clean 1.66:1 image. The transfer is sharp and makes the black and white cinematography look very strong. The image does not feature any noticeable damage nor any dirt. This is undoubtedly the best this film has looked in decades.

    The audio on the disc is 2.0 DTS. The audio is mixed well and dialogue is always audible, which is great for such a talky film. There are times when the music get a little overbearing but I believe that is more of an issue with the sometimes bombastic score rather than the disc’s audio. The music becomes too loud when something significant happens as if to say to the audience, pay attention – this is important! The disc is supplied with English subtitles.

    The release’s sole extra is a trailer for the film.

    The Final Word:

    Pressure Point has strong elements, for example acting and cinematography, but ultimately it is a failure. The film acts like it is important but it says nothing noteworthy. It is not a bad film per se but I would argue “message films” should be judged on their success at imparting a message or revealing some new truth on a social issue. Pressure Point may deal with racism and psychology but it does so on a shallow level and the film says nothing meaningful on either subject.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screencaps!