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Porgy and Bess (1959)

A woman whose past is scorned by nearly everyone around her meets a man who'd love her regardlessly- if only everyone else would allow them to.

Directors:

Otto Preminger, Rouben Mamoulian (uncredited)

Writers:

Dorothy Heyward (play), DuBose Heyward (libretto) | 2 more credits »
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Won 1 Oscar. Another 3 wins & 10 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Sidney Poitier ... Porgy
Dorothy Dandridge ... Bess
Sammy Davis Jr. ... Sportin' Life
Pearl Bailey ... Maria
Brock Peters ... Crown
Leslie Scott Leslie Scott ... Jake
Diahann Carroll ... Clara
Ruth Attaway Ruth Attaway ... Serena Robbins
Claude Akins ... Detective
Clarence Muse ... Peter
Everdinne Wilson Everdinne Wilson ... Annie
Joel Fluellen Joel Fluellen ... Robbins
Earl Jackson Earl Jackson ... Mingo
Moses LaMarr Moses LaMarr ... Nelson
Margaret Hairston Margaret Hairston ... Lily
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Storyline

In this legendary Gershwin opera set among the black residents of a fishing village in 1912 South Carolina, Bess - a woman with a disreputable history - tries to break free from her brutish lover Crown after he becomes wanted for murder. The only person willing to overlook her past and offer her shelter is the crippled Porgy. Their relationship is threatened by the disapproval of the townspeople, the presence of her old drug supplier Sportin' Life - and the threatened return of Crown. Written by scgary66

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

It's Gershwin! It's Glorious! It's Great! See more »

Genres:

Drama | Musical | Romance

Certificate:

See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

14 October 1959 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

Porgy y Bess See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$7,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$3,500,000, 31 December 1959
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints)| Stereo (Westrex Recording System)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.20 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Producer Samuel Goldwyn was notorious for "playing with film" during the editing stages. Director Otto Preminger resented Goldwyn's meddling in the film editing, so he shot nearly all of it in long takes, with the camera panning in and out and the camera angles seldom changing during takes. There were also few close-ups, and none of the kinds of close-ups found in non-widescreen films. This effectively prevented Goldwyn from incorporating his own photography ideas into the film. Preminger's approach was precisely the opposite of Trevor Nunn, who shot his 1993 videotape television version of "Porgy and Bess" in the style of a non-widescreen film. See more »

Quotes

Maria: You bring trouble enough. Now, get out before the police come.
Bess: You wouldn't have a heart and let me in?
Maria: Not till help freeze.
[pushes Bess and closes the door]
See more »

Alternate Versions

Although this film has never been officially released on any home media format, numerous bootleg copies, running 115 minutes, are available on VHS and DVD-R. The full-length original version runs 138 minutes, not including overture and entr'acte music. See more »

Connections

Featured in Dorothy Dandridge: An American Beauty (2003) See more »

Soundtracks

Gone, Gone, Gone
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by DuBose Heyward
Sung by The Ken Darby Singers
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Not Definitive -- But Important
30 November 2002 | by bobwestal-2See all my reviews

I first saw the opening of Otto Preminger's "Porgy and Bess" on TV, probably some time in the early 80s, and my younger self found it a bit slow, despite the timeless music. I turned it off

Last night, an extremely rare, cobbled together print screened at the L.A. Cinematheque and it was a bit of a revelation. The performances are strong and memorable. Dorothy Dandridge brings a great deal of vulnerability, strength and subtle (at least by today's standards) eroticism to her part. Sidney Poitier is said to be uncomfortable with the movie, but his performance is terrific, as is Pearl Bailey. Even better are Sammy Davis as the amoral, cat-like Sportin' Life and Brock Peters as the villanious bully Crown.

Still, I'm no fan of Preminger's earlier, leaden -- and far easier to see -- "Carmen Jones." Porgy and Bess" is far superior to that less controversial film -- though that may have to do with the fact that the source material is also far superior.

As seen last night, this is a sturdy but far from perfect work. Not all of the moments quite come alive, and there is some awkwardness in the way the film mixes the overtly stylized Catfish Row set (beautifully done by Oliver Smith) with actual locations. Also, even to my rather untrained ear, some brief portions of the score seem unduly popularized.

Moreover, while this doesn't detract from the achievement of the filmmakers -- Preminger's decision to film almost entirely in wide shots, with no close-ups and occasional medium shots, no doubt rendered it unwatchable on TV "panned and scanned" and may doom it even on widescreen DVDs if it gets the restoration it deserves. On smaller screens, we won't be able to make out the many details that are crucial to the way Preminger staged the film.

Also, the mix heard last night was odd. Many of the vocals, particularly on the opening "Summertime" seemed unduly soft and were overwhelmed by the instrumental music. Perhaps this can be fixed in a restoration.

There is the issue of the film's racial politics. Personally, I see nothing wrong with it, at least in a contemporary context. At the time when so few films depicted strong African-American characters, this may have seemed an unfortunate choice for a big-budget Hollywood film. And, while there may not be much "empowering" here, these are recognizable human beings that are not racial stereotypes. These are operatic characters who make poor choices because that's what tragic characters do. That alone made it a giant stride forward at the time.

In a modern context where strong and heroic African-American characters are less rare (though still not common enough), these characters seem nothing more nor less than human. They truly could be poor and undereducated people of any ethnic background.

Thorny politics aside, the original work is undoubtedly one of the truly great achievements of American music and (secondarily) theater. Poitier, Davis, Dandridge, Peters and, yes Pearl Bailey, were all amazing performers who we'll never see the likes of again. This less than perfect but still solid film clearly deserves to be seen and treasured.


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