(Daniel Petrie, USA, 1961) 128 minutes


Director: Daniel Petrie
Producer: David Susskind
Screenplay: Lorraine Hansberry
Cinematography: Charles Lawton Jr
Editors: William A Lyon, Paul Weatherwax
Music: Laurence Rosenthal
Sidney Poitier (Walter Lee Younger)
Claudia McNeil (Lena Younger)
Ruby Dee (Ruth Younger)
Diana Sands (Beneatha Younger)
Ivan Dixon (Asagai)
John Fiedler (Mark Lindner)

Reviews and notes

1961 Cannes

A Raisin in the Sun is one of those properties which would seem to be rather particular, in terms of focusing on an African American family in the late fifties or early sixties overcoming prejudice to purchase their first family home, which actually turns out to have a universal emotional pull which is undeniable. The Younger family consists of matriarch Lena (Claudia McNeil), who is expecting a $10,000 life insurance payment after the recent death of her husband. Lena has decided to use the money to finance the family's move from a cramped South Chicago apartment to their very own house, a dream she shared with her deceased spouse. The film both has a throughline, one that follows the Youngers' travails with deciding what do with the money and also their travails once they attempt to buy a house in a white neighborhood, but also a somewhat vignette driven character, as various relationships in the family are explored through a number of sidebars. Hansberry adapted her own play for the film version, and she had an incredibly fine ear for natural dialogue which really helps to elevate the film throughout.
- Dr. Svet Atanasov, Blu-ray.com, 5 February 2020.

Based on Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play of the same name, David Petrie’s A Raisin in the Sun is at once a searing, affirming and defiant portrayal of race, poverty and frustrated aspiration in America. Headlined with a barnstorming performance from Sidney Poitier, his beleaguered family man is a far cry from the quiet dignity of his other key roles.

Comprised of a tiny kitchen/living area, two bedrooms and a bathroom shared with the rest of the building, the Younger family’s apartment houses Walter Lee (Poitier), his wife Ruth (Ruby Dee), their son Travis (Steven Perry), his sister Beneatha (Diana Sands), and finally his mother, Lena (Claudia McNeil). Living on top of each other with Travis sleeping on the living room couch, each yearns to escape their limited means.

Walter dreams of leaving his job as a chauffeur and opening his own liquor store with the insurance money left by his late father, while college girl Beneatha is training to be a doctor while trying to reconnect with her African roots. Meanwhile, Ruth is simply trying to keep her family from falling apart while breaking her back working as a laundry woman, and bustling, well-meaning Lena can’t help meddling.

Hansberry brilliantly adapts her source text for the screen, capturing the boiling-point tension simmering between the family members, and aside from a few extraneous but brief scenes, contains the drama within the four walls of the Younger family’s apartment. If A Raisin in the Sun’s theatrical origins are apparent, they never feel less than cinematic in the able hands of cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr, whose black and white photography transforms the Younger’s drear living quarters into an unstable psychological space, ready to crack apart at any moment.

The Chicago summer’s heat is palpable in the pressure cooker of the apartment, sweat dripping from Poitier’s increasingly furrowed brow, the interior location offering no respite from the hot cruelty of the outside world. But while the environment exerts its maddening influence, it’s the family itself where Petrie’s film discovers its humanity.

Each character is tragically flawed – Walter Lee’s legitimate anger with his meagre lot bubbles over into violent outbursts, while he routinely undermines Ruth in front of their son while dreaming up a cockamamie get-rich-quick scheme that can only end badly. Meanwhile, Beneatha’s sense of black pride is timely, but her sudden insistence on wearing traditional African dress is naive and affected. Finally, Lena is a proud woman and within living memory of Jim Crow laws and even slavery, but living in the past blinds her to the dreams of her children.

Ultimately, what binds each of the characters is their drive for dignity – what divides them is their blindness to each other’s in favour of their own. The film’s bittersweet, uncompromising finale may not magically grant them all they desire but it does offer a chance at the emancipation of dignity.
-Christopher Machell, CineVue, 27 November 2018.


A Raisin in the Sun is presented in its original aspect ratio in 1.85:1. The digital transfer was created in 4K resolution from the 35 mm original camera negative at Cineric in New York on the facility's proprietary high dynamic range wet gate film scanner.
Credit given to Grover Crisp and the fantastic team at Sony Pictures Entertainment may be all one needs to know about how this transfer looks. This is another stunner from the almost always reliable folks at Sony-Columbia, with a beautifully rendered grain field, solid and consistent contrast, gorgeously deep blacks and well modulated gray scale. Detail levels are excellent across the board, though arguably (and understandably) a bit better with regard to fine detail in some of the studio bound sequences than in some of the interpolated outdoor material. Petrie and cinematographer Charles Lawton, Jr surprisingly tend to favor a lot of midrange shots, but quite remarkably fine detail levels are typically excellent even in these wider framings. When close-ups are utilized, detail levels on items like fabrics are virtually palpable.

The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35 mm magnetic master and features a nicely full bodied sounding LPCM Mono track. As stated above, the film can't quite escape its stage bound roots, and as such large swaths of the film pass by with dialogue being the preeminent feature on the track, though ambient environmental noises do tend to fill the background, even in some supposedly inside scenes. Things bristle with some energy in the outdoor material. Laurence Rosenthal's score also sounds lively and distortion free on this enjoyable track.
- adapted from Dr. Svet Atanasov, Blu-ray.com, 5 February 2020.

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