As in Judgment at Nuremberg, producer Stanley Kramer dips into productive source of live television drama and comes up with a poignant, provocative, revealing dramatization. Again it is writer Abby Mann whose original work spawns the effort. This time it is the subject of mentally retarded children.
The film focuses on one profoundly touching case, around which are woven heartrending and often shocking illustrations of behavior and activity in institutions for the mentally retarded as well as academic discussions of the role in society to be played by the afflicted, and society’s responsibility to them. There is no hokiness in the dramatization.
Burt Lancaster delivers a firm, sincere, persuasive and unaffected performance as the professionally objective but understanding psychologist who heads the institution. Judy Garland gives a sympathetic portrayal of an overly involved teacher who comes to see the error of her obsession with the plight of one child.
That child, a deeply touching ‘borderline case’, is played superbly by young Bruce Ritchey, a professional actor who manages to fit believably into a youthful cast that consists, for the most part, of actual retarded children who are patients of Pacific State Hospital in Pomona. As the lad’s two troubled parents, Gena Rowlands (director John Cassavetes’ wife) and Steven Hill pitch in with two exceptionally vivid and convincing performances.