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Edge of the City

Edge of the City(1957)

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The working title of this film was A Man Is Ten Feet Tall. Author Robert Alan Aurthur and producer David Susskind also made the television drama upon which this film is based, A Man Is Ten Feet Tall. Aurthur is credited onscreen only as the film's writer, however. The teleplay starred Sidney Poitier, and in his autobiography, Poitier noted that in order to be hired for the part, NBC's legal department required that he sign a statement repudiating his relationships with Paul Robeson and Canada Lee, whom the legal department had deemed to be "dangerous people." After Poitier refused, Aurthur and others worked out a compromise that allowed him to take the role. Another modern source states that Poitier's appearance in A Man Is Ten Feet Tall marked the first time that a black actor was cast in major role in a television drama, and that when the teleplay was aired, Philco received numerous complaints and threats of cancellation. According to Poitier's autobiography, the complaints were partly directed at Hilda Simms, the actress who played his wife, a very light-skinned black woman who looked white.
       The film version of Edge of the City was shot on location in Brooklyn and Harlem. The Variety review commented that the picture was a "milestone" in cinema history because it showed a black man as "a fully-integrated, first-class citizen," rather than as a "problem." The review goes on to suggest, however, that the representation of equality between whites and blacks in the film might raise the issue of how the film should be marketed in the South, "in light of the current tension over integration." In a modern interview, director Martin Ritt recalled that "Tommy Tyler's" death sparked a near riot in one theater where the film was shown.
       According to correspondence in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA was worried about the possibility that John Cassavetes' character "Axel Nordmann" might be viewed as homosexual. In a letter dated March 16, 1956 to producer Susskind, PCA official Geoffrey Shurlock cited as problematic Axel's "almost psychopathic aversion to women," and requested that a scene be cut in which Axel demonstrates "a rather unusual reaction to the couple he sees necking in the movie." He also asked Susskind to remove a moment of dialogue in which "Malik" teases Axel and Tommy by announcing to the work crew that they are getting married. Neither of these scenes appears in the finished film. Edge of the City was the first film venture for Susskind, Aurthur and Ritt who, prior to this project, worked in television and theater.