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Joseph Losey, who attained cult status as a director in two film collaborations with playwright Harold Pinter, The Servant (1963) and Accident (1967), made his feature-film debut with The Boy With Green Hair (1948). Dore Schary, then production chief of RKO, had befriended fellow liberal Losey after the two had worked together on a memorial salute to Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Hollywood Bowl.
Impressed by Losey's work in the New York stage, which included a 1947 production of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo Galilei starring Charles Laughton, Schary entrusted Losey with the direction of The Boy With Green Hair even though the director's only previous film experience had been in such shorts as A Gun in His Hands (1945), an Oscar-nominated entry in MGM's "Crime Does Not Pay" series.
The Boy With Green Hair is a gentle anti-war fable in which a war orphan (Dean Stockwell) awakens one day to find that his hair has turned green. This makes him an object of ridicule in his small town, where the locals call for the boy's head to be shaved. After running away, the child dreams of other war orphans who urge him to return to the town and make its citizens aware of how simple differences can escalate into armed conflict. Unfortunately, the film's themes remain all too timely today.
Unfortunately for Losey, the eccentric, politically conservative Howard Hughes took over RKO while The Boy With Green Hair was being made and, hating the film's pacifist message, did his best to sabotage it. Losey, however, managed to protect the integrity of his project. Screenwriter Ben Barzman would later recall that "Joe shot the picture in such a way that there wasn't much possibility for change. A few lines were stuck in here and there to soften the message, but that was about it."
Barzman also remembered that 12-year-old Stockwell was called into Hughes' office and told that when the other children spoke of the horror of war, he should say, "And that's why America has gotta have the biggest army, and the biggest navy, and biggest air force in the world!" According to Barzman, little Stockwell was in so in sympathy with the film's message that he dared to respond, "No, sir!" Even after Hughes started to scream at him, the boy held his ground.
Although Stockwell would recall much of his career as a child actor in negative terms, he genuinely liked and admired Losey -- even after the director was deliberately "cruel" to get the boy to cry on cue. Losey said later that he had "adored" Stockwell and regretted having to reduce him to tears by talking about the death of a pet kitten. "It's interesting that Joe felt he was being cruel," Stockwell later said. "It shows the warmth, the sensitivity of the man."
Blacklisted in Hollywood after being summoned by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951, Losey moved to Great Britain, where he created some of his most highly praised films including The Damned (1963) and Pinter's The Go-Between (1971). Relocating to France in 1976, Losey remained active in films until his death in 1984.
Producers: Stephen Ames, Dore Schary (Executive producer)
Director: Joseph Losey
Screenplay: Ben Barzman and Alfred Lewis Levitt from story by Betsy Beaton
Cinematography: George Barnes
Art Direction: Ralph Berger, Albert S. D'Agostino
Costume Design: Adele Balkan
Original Music: Leigh Harline
Editing: Frank Doyle
Cast: Pat O'Brien (Gramp), Robert Ryan (Dr. Evans), Barbara Hale (Miss Brand), Dean Stockwell (Peter Frye), Richard Lyon (Michael), Walter Catlett (The King), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Knudson), Regis Toomey (Mr. Davis).
by Roger Fristoe