Take a Giant Step
Cast & Crew
Seventeen-year-old black high school student Spence Scott storms out of his history class and heads for the washroom, where he defiantly lights up a cigar. That afternoon, he admits to his sickly grandmother, Mrs. Martin, whom he calls "Gram," and to Christine, the housekeeper who looks after the old woman, that he has been expelled from his predominantly white New England school. His teacher, Miss Bailey, had declared that Southern Negroes of the Civil War period were "backwards" and needed the help of Northern whites to gain their freedom. Spence had therefore told her off and left. Gram, whose illness has diluted neither her temper nor her sarcastic sense of humor, argues with her grandson, saying, "There are ways, and there are ways." When Spence's white friends drop by, he chastises them for not defending him in class, and when they accidentally mention that because he is black, he has not been invited to a Polish-American classmate's party, he orders them from the house. He then bursts into tears and calls himself an "outcast." Gram tries to comfort the young man, but when she expresses her distaste for "wops and pollacks," Spence's anger flares up once again. On the pretext of buying small gifts for his parents, Spence packs a bag and leaves the house. Intending to flee the white, middle-class neighborhood in which he has grown up, he takes a bus to a black neighborhood and sits down in a bar. Three unsavory women named Violet, Rose and Poppy offer him a seat at their table, where he learns to his discomfort that they are penniless prostitutes. After they leave, Spence joins an attractive young woman named Carol, to whom he confesses that Gram is his only friend. Carol is amused when Spence cites a Kinsey Report statement that boys his age are "sexy." When he proposes to her, however, she gently informs him that she is already married to an unskilled worker who is never at home. Carol then announces that she is going to accompany a flirtatious stranger at the bar for a few hours of fun. This angers Spence, but Carol nevertheless kisses him gently and leaves with the other man. Back in the street, Spence encounters the three prostitutes, and Violet invites him to her room for a meal. Meanwhile, Spence's parents are both worried and infuriated by their son's absence from home. Gram tries to defend him, but Spence's father Lem threatens to "break his neck." At the prostitute's small apartment, Violet dons a dressing gown and tries to kiss Spence, but he decides to leave. Violet keeps the boy's $2.39 but lends him the bus fare to return home. Spence's parents, who have learned about their son's expulsion, angrily order him to apologize to his teacher, but he refuses to do so. Lem argues that even though those "crumbs" at the bank make jokes about "niggers," he endures their comments to keep his job. When Spence angrily criticizes his parents' seeming passivity, Gram descends from her room and accuses Lem of bullying Spence, describing his teacher as a "nasty little hussy." After Gram reminds Lem and May that their high expectations for their son always included self-respect, Lem tries to talk with his son, but his remarks are awkward and superficial. At that moment, Gram calls for Spence and falls to the floor. After advising Spence to respect himself, she dies. Spence falls into his father's arms and weeps. For days after the funeral, Spence refuses to eat or talk. Christine finally badgers him into eating and then discusses her own troubled adolescence. After leaving her Southern family, Christine explains, she came north and married. When her husband died and her baby was born dead, she decided that despite the pain, there was still a lot of living to be done. Touched by this story, Spence confesses that he wants to "be with a girl" and suggests that the two of them might find happiness together for a time. Christine is amused at first, but her own loneliness causes her to "think about it." Some time later, Spence's mother discharges Christine, explaining that the family no longer needs a maid for Gram. After Christine's departure, Spence's mother informs him that she has invited his friends over for cake. Spence reacts with anger, the two argue, and Spence runs after Christine. "I hate being black," he declares. Christine assures him that life has wonderful things to offer him and adds that if he were not black, he would never have known his grandmother. Spence returns home to find his parents in awkward conversation with his white friends. Spence announces that because he plans to attend college in the fall, this party is his farewell. After his friends leave, Spence explains to his mother that he must learn to live with the fact that his friendships with whites have limits. Spence and his mother then declare their mutual love and embrace.
William "bill" Walker
Leslie I. Carey
Julius J. Epstein
Julius J. Epstein
Louis S. Peterson
Take A Giant Step - Take a Giant Step
Take a Giant Step (1959) is a well-intentioned coming-of-age drama that was a product of its socially conscious period in American history, right on the cusp of the turbulent sixties. Originally a successful off-Broadway play, the film version was financed through actor Burt Lancaster's production company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Productions, which had scored an earlier box office hit with the Oscar®-winning Marty in 1955. Take a Giant Step playwright Louis S. Peterson adapted his work into the film's screenplay at a time when African-American screenwriters were a rarity in Hollywood.
Ruby Dee shines in her pivotal role of Christine, leading a supporting cast of fine actors, many of whom came from the original stage version. Estelle Hemsley and Frederick O'Neal make memorable impressions reprising their Broadway roles as Spence's grandmother and father.
Take a Giant Step marked the screen acting debut for pop singer Johnny Nash in the leading role of Spence. Best known for his 1972 hit "I Can See Clearly Now," Nash also sings the film's title song.
Though critical response was lukewarm upon its initial release, Take a Giant Step is worth a look for its unique and poignant perspective on changing attitudes in American culture during a pivotal period of change.
Producer: Julius J. Epstein, Burt Lancaster
Director: Philip Leacock
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Louis S. Peterson
Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling
Film Editing: Frank Gross
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Music: Jack Marshall
Cast: Johnny Nash (Spencer Scott), Estelle Hemsley (Grandma), Ruby Dee (Christine), Frederick O'Neal (Lem Scott), Ellen Holly (Carol), Pauline Meyer (Violet).
by Andrea Passafiume
Take A Giant Step - Take a Giant Step
The above cast is listed as it appears in the film's opening credits; however, the actors are listed in the reverse order in the end credits, which begin with William "Bill" Walker and end with Johnny Nash. Lyn Austin and Thomas Noyes' 1953 Broadway stage production, which starred Louis Gossett, also featured Estelle Hemsley, Frederick O'Neal and Pauline Meyers, who reprised their roles for the film.
Information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that in April 1958, the PCA rejected the film's original script because of the "illicit sex" between "Spencer" and "Christine." The PCA insisted that a "voice for morality" be woven into the story, "since the affair is the most important single element in the play." By March 1959, the producers were still unsure whether the film would be awarded a PCA seal because of the subject matter and dialogue. An March 18, 1959 Variety news item indicated that two versions of various scenes were shot in anticipation of cuts required by the PCA. The news item also noted that the producers were hoping that rave reviews for the Broadway play A Raisin in the Sun, a black family drama starring Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil, which opened March 11, 1959, would help their own box-office sales.
A pre-production news item included Larry Larson, Douglas Nash and Leo Castillo in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Critical reactions to the film were generally lukewarm. Although reviewers complimented the performances, the Variety review stated that the "scenes between Nash and his white friends are awkward and stagey without real insight. The conclusion is unclear and appears to recommend an 'Uncle Tom' philosophy." The picture won two awards at Switzerland's Film Locarno Film Festival: one to Johnny Nash for his performance, and one to the film, which was voted "most humane." The then seventeen-year-old Nash was a pop and rhythm and blues singer, and in the 1950s, a regular member of the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts show on radio and television. He is best known for his 1972 hit song, "I Can See Clearly Now."
Released in United States 1959
Released in United States 1959