Cast & Crew
Sammy Davis Jr.
At Catfish Row, the courtyard home to a southern, African-American fishing community, the men shoot dice one evening while the women gossip about the wanton Bess, who for five years has lived with Crown, a local bully. The women declare that Porgy, a cripple who gets around on a cart pulled by a goat, is "soft on Bess," but Porgy denies this and laments that the life of a cripple is meant to be lonesome. When Crown and Bess come to the courtyard and Crown joins the dice game, Sportin' Life, a slick drug pusher, sells Crown some "happy dust," or cocaine, against Bess's wishes, and Crown snorts it. When Robbins, one of the dice players, wins his point, a fight ensues in which Crown kills Robbins with a blow. Bess sends Crown away to protect him from the police, then asks Sportin' Life for some happy dust. Sportin' Life suggests that they leave for New York together, but Bess turns him down in disgust. When the police arrive, Bess tries to take refuge with her neighbors, but they all turn her away. Desperate, Bess knocks at Porgy's door, he agrees to let her stay. Serena, the God-fearing woman who was married to Robbins, tries to collect money from the community to pay for her husband's burial, and although she refuses Bess's contribution, Porgy encourages the neighbors to be generous and Bess collects their offerings. When a white detective accuses old "honey man" Peter of the murder and threatens him, Peter reveals that he saw Crown kill Robbins. Peter is then locked up as a material witness until Crown is caught. The detective warns Serena that if Robbins is not buried by the next day, the board of health will turn his body over to medical students. After Serena pleads with the undertaker to accept the fifteen dollars she has collected and let her pay the rest when she earns it, and he agrees to bury the body. Bess continues to live with Porgy, and the neighbors soon notice that he is happier. One day, lawyer Frazier comes to give Bess a divorce from Crown so she can marry Porgy, for which Porgy pays him a dollar, but when Frazier learns that Bess never married Crown, he demands an extra half-dollar. When they balk, Frazier accuses them of living in sin, and Porgy reluctantly pays the amount. On the day of a church picnic, Sportin' Life again tempts Bess to go to New York and offers her happy dust, but Porgy threatens to break his neck unless he leaves Bess alone. Porgy then tells Bess that she is now his woman and she agrees to stay with him. After the picnic, Crown, who is hiding in the woods, confronts Bess when she is alone. She struggles to resist him, but when Crown kisses her, she embraces him and lets him carry her off. Bess returns to Catfish Row two days later and remains in a state of delirium for more than a week as Porgy tends to her. Peter, who has been released from jail, recommends that Porgy take Bess to the county hospital, but he refuses and instead asks Serena to pray for Bess. After reciting a prayer, Serena states that Bess will be well when the church bell strikes six times. The next morning, when the bell chimes, Bess comes out of her delirium and calls for Porgy. Realizing she betrayed him with Crown, Bess cries but Porgy forgives her. Although Bess confesses that she loses control when Crown touches her, she tells Porgy she loves him and asks him not to let Crown seduce her. He assures her that he will protect her from Crown and that she has a man now. When a hurricane hits after some of the men have gone out in their fishing boats, the people congregate at Serena's home, where Clara, a new mother, worries about her husband Jake. Crown also comes to the house where he taunts Porgy about his relationship with Bess, then laughs at those who are afraid of the storm. Anxious, Clara gives her baby to Bess and runs out in search of Jake, after which Crown also leaves, saying that he will be back for Bess. Following the storm, the community mourns for the lost men and Clara. When Serena tries to get Bess to give up Clara's baby, saying it needs a proper Christian raising, Porgy implores Serena to let Bess keep the child, and Serena relents. Later, Crown sneaks into the courtyard and goes to Porgy's window, and when Porgy awakens, they fight. When Crown draws his knife, Porgy throws him down, killing him. As the people repair their buildings from the storm damage, the detective returns with a coroner to find a witness to Crown's killing. Suspecting that Serena killed Crown for revenge, the detective questions her, but she has an alibi. The detective then orders Porgy to come to the jail to identify the body. Porgy refuses, not wanting to look at Crown, and Sportin' Life says that if Porgy looks at Crown's face, the dead man's wounds will begin to bleed, proving that Porgy killed him. The detective then carries Porgy into the police wagon as he screams that he will not look at Crown's face. Sportin' Life finds Bess crying and tells her that Porgy will "give himself away" and end up dying in jail. He offers her some happy dust, and after she accepts, Sportin' Life's talk of New York and living in a mansion appeals to her in her drugged state. Sometime later, the police bring Porgy back to the courtyard. He tells his friends that the wounds did not bleed when he looked at them and brings gifts he bought with money he won from shooting craps in jail. When he asks for Bess, however, the people scatter. He then sees Serena with Clara's baby and demands to know where Bess is. Porgy finally learns that Bess went to New York with Sportin' Life after he convinced her that Porgy would never return from jail. Stating that he cannot go on without Bess, Porgy starts off for New York in his goat cart, cheered on by his friends.
Sammy Davis Jr.
Moses La Marr
Vince Townsend Jr.
Roy Glenn Sr.
Don Hall Jr.
Don Hall Jr.
N. Richard Nash
Loulie Jean Norman
Schuyler A. Sanford
Alfred St. Hilaire
Joan St. Oegger
Alfred H. Tamarin
Best Costume Design
Sidney Poitier's singing voice was dubbed by opera singer Bobby McFerrin Sr. (father of pop singer, classical conductor, and composer Bobby McFerrin).
Sammy Davis Jr. sings and acts the role of Sportin' Life in the film, but for contractual reasons his vocals could not be used on the soundtrack album, so another legendary Sportin' Life, Cab Calloway, recorded his renditions of the songs for posterity, singing to the film's orchestral and choral tracks.
The Gershwin family strongly disapproved of this version; they felt that producer Samuel Goldwyn had glamorized and "Hollywoodized" it too much, and that he had made a mistake in firing the film's original director, Rouben Mamoulian (director of the original stage version in 1935). They withdrew all copies of this film after its theatrical release and first television showings in the mid 1960's. The only place it can be seen now (early 1999) is the Library of Congress.
Two days before filming was slated to begin, a fire broke out and destroyed most of the costumes, props and sketches.
Sidney Poitier had adamantly refused to take the role of Porgy when offered it by Samuel Goldwyn because he felt it perpetuated stereotypes of blacks of a bygone era. However, he was convinced to accept the project by friends and colleagues because a refusal of a Sam Goldwyn offer would probably have ended his career in films.
According to a April 5, 1959 Los Angeles Times article by noted literary editor Bennett Cerf, DuBose Heyward came up with the idea to write the novel Porgy, the original basis for the film, while he was working as a cotton checker in Charleston, SC. He became intrigued with the life and culture of the Gullah, or "Low Country" Negroes who worked under him. A "Study Guide" to the film states that Heyward based "Porgy" on Sammy Smalls, a crippled beggar, after reading in an August 1924 newspaper account that Smalls, in a fit of jealous rage, shot the woman of whom he was enamored. Cerf, however, wrote that Smalls attempted to shoot his own grandfather. Both sources state that Smalls traveled by means of a goat cart.
After Heyward wrote the novel Porgy in 1925, his wife Dorothy wrote a play based on the novel also entitled Porgy, which opened in 1927 as a Broadway Theatre Guild production. The play was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, who later directed the 1935 production of the opera, Porgy and Bess, and was originally hired to direct the 1959 film. In 1928, Heyward wrote the following dedication: "To Smalls, I make acknowledgment of my obligation. From contemplation of his real, and deeply moving tragedy, sprang Porgy, a creature of my imagination ... upon whom, being my own creation, I could impose my own ... conception of a summer of aspiration, devotion and heartbreak across the color wall."
Composer George Gershwin, who wanted to write an American opera, read Heyward's book in 1926 and wrote to Heyward suggesting that they collaborate on the project. Gershwin then visited Charleston and James Island, where he heard traditional singing at Gullah revival meetings. Although by 1933, Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern discussed basing a musical on the book and play for Al Jolson, Gershwin went to work on it in the fall of 1933 and collaborated with Heyward by mail. Gershwin moved to Folly Island near Charleston in the summer of 1934 and composed the music between June 1934 and April 1935.
The opera, with lyrics by Heyward and Ira Gershwin, previewed in Boston on September 30, 1935 and opened in New York in October of that year. Gershwin stated concerning the work: "I have been asked why it is a folk opera. Porgy and Bess is a folktale. When I first began work on the music I decided against the use of original folk material because I wanted the music to be all of one piece. Therefore I wrote my own spirituals and folk songs. But they are still folk music-and, being operatic in form, Porgy and Bess becomes a folk opera." After some twenty-five to thirty-five minutes were cut from the three-hour Boston opening, the opera played in New York for 124 performances and toured for three months, during which it received some negative reviews. Variety, reviewing the Boston opening, commented, "Gershwin's version of spirituals is an inadequate substitute for the originals."
In 1942, Porgy and Bess was revived in a version produced by Cheryl Crawford, in which the lengthy recitations of the 1935 original were eliminated or replaced with dialogue scenes. This version, which was no longer called an opera, was a success, playing in New York for eight months and 286 performances before it went on a twenty-six city tour. The musical was revived again in 1953, and it toured the U.S. before playing in New York for 305 performances and in twenty-eight foreign countries. In November 1953, New York Herald Tribune reported that independent producer Berman Swarttz was negotiating with the respective estates of Heyward and Gershwin to make a film using the touring cast. The estates withheld their permission, however, as the executors first wanted to see if Swarttz's current project, a film of the musical New Faces with the Broadway cast, would be successful.
In May 1957, it was announced that Samuel Goldwyn had acquired the rights to the play, which he would film using a wide-screen process, for 10% of the world-wide gross, with a down payment of $650,000. It was also announced that Robert Breen, the producer and director of the 1953 revival, would be "associated" with Goldwyn in the project. Both Louis B. Mayer, acting independently following his retirement from M-G-M, and Columbia Pictures had offered $1,000,000 against a percentage of the gross for the rights. In addition, George Seaton and William Perlberg, with Paramount financial backing, had made an offer to make the film in Germany.
TAccording to news items, Goldwyn, who had been negotiating to acquire the rights for a decade, was chosen by the estates because of his reputation. Breen was quoted as saying that other interested parties proposed unacceptable changes, including one producer who wanted to make the film with a white cast starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth. Ira Gershwin stated in Los Angeles Times in April 1958 that over ninety producers had approached him to acquire the screen rights, and that Al Jolson wanted to play the role of "Porgy" in blackface, with an otherwise all-black cast. Gershwin noted that the Heyward estate presented legal technicalities making it difficult for the film rights to be acquired, but that Goldwyn persisted through seven months of negotiations. The deal was formalized on October 8, 1957, and Goldwyn planned at that time to handle the initial distribution through his own company, to be followed by a subsequent release handled by an established distributor.
According to New York Times, in Oct, Goldwyn hired New York playwright N. Richard Nash to write the screenplay. Modern sources state that Goldwyn approached a number of other writers as well, including Langston Hughes, Paul Osborn, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Sidney Kingsley, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, and Clifford Odets. Nash decided to accept only if he could work in New York and not have to give Goldwyn the drafts page by page. Goldwyn, who was used to working closely with writers, agreed reluctantly. An April 1956 "Rambling Reporter" column in Hollywood Reporter stated that if Columbia acquired the film rights, George Sidney would direct the picture. Early in November it was announced that Mamoulian, who had directed both the 1927 play and the 1935 opera, was signed as director for the film. Modern sources state that Goldwyn first considered hiring Elia Kazan, Frank Capra or King Vidor. In a New York Times article, Mamoulian stated that he had "every intention of respecting the spirit and concept of the folk opera.... It will have to be a stylized version, set in 1910 and not the turn of the century as on stage, to capture the truth, reality and emotions of the characters."
In a December 2, 1957 Time article, Goldwyn stated that he had experienced a "quiet boycott" among leading African-American actors and entertainers, who refused to appear in the film. Harry Belafonte, who turned down the leading role, was quoted in an interview, reprinted in a modern source, as saying, "in this period of our social development, I doubt that it is healthy to expose certain images of the Negro. In a period of calm, perhaps this picture could be viewed historically. But skins are still too thin and emotions still too sensitive for a lot of Uncle Toms in Porgy and Bess to be shown now." Goldwyn characterized the "boycott" as "an underground movement by radicals." Previous complaints by some African-Americans about the play and musical had also worried other potential filmmakers before Goldwyn was selected to make the film. In a statement to Time, dated November 22, 1957, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP commented on black reaction to the show: "Among Negro Americans there is a divergence of opinion as to the value of this play. Officially, the NAACP has taken no position on Porgy and Bess."
On November 4, 1957, Goldwyn announced that Sidney Poitier had been signed for the lead. On 11 Nov, however, Variety reported that Poitier had "vacated" the spot over the weekend. Goldwyn explained Poitier's refusal to play the role by stating that he had demanded script approval, a condition Goldwyn had never given before. On 11 Dec, in a press conference, Poitier's subsequent acceptance of the role was announced. The following story of the turnabout was circulated in the press at the time: Poitier explained that his agents had committed him to the role prematurely. After he examined recordings the company sent him about the play, which he had neither read nor seen, he did not have "sufficient creative enthusiasm for the part" and also feared that "if improperly handled Porgy and Bess could conceivably be to my mind injurious to Negroes."
Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety reported that Poitier, who had been working in the British Virgin Islands at the time of the deal, had phoned Goldwyn about his lack of interest. Poitier later felt, according to Hollywood Reporter, that he was being unfair in assuming that Goldwyn "might mistreat the property" and that Goldwyn deserved a more thorough explanation about Poitier's "feelings as a Negro," so he came to California to discuss the situation. After meeting with Goldwyn and Mamoulian, Poitier's reservations were "washed away." At the press conference, when African-American reporters asked Goldwyn what guarantees he could make that the film would not portray blacks in a bad light, Goldwyn stated, "I stand on my record," and predicted that the film "will be the greatest propaganda the Negro can have." Goldwyn then invited African-American author Langston Hughes to go over the script with him in order to change any offensive elements.
In his autobiography, Poitier gave a different account of the reasons he accepted the role. He stated that the press release about his decision to do the picture "was all to Goldwyn's advantage. I got screwed again and there were reverberations in the black community." Poitier related that an unnamed female agent associated with Martin Baum, his own agent, told Goldwyn that she would get Poitier for the role, not knowing that Poitier "had a considerable aversion to Porgy and Bess because of its inherent racial attitudes." When Poitier learned of the offer, he called Baum and said he was not interested. Upon Poitier's return from the Virgin Islands, and after his refusal of the role was reported in the press, Baum convinced him to go to California because of the misrepresentation to Goldwyn. Poitier met with Goldwyn, who failed to convince him to accept, but nonetheless persuaded him to give the matter more thought. Wishing to give priority to The Defiant Ones, Poitier communicated to Goldwyn that he was not interested in Porgy and Bess, but Goldwyn announced that he would hold Poitier to the original promise made by the female agent. Warned by his agents that Goldwyn could "blackball" him, Poitier realized he was going to "get burned a little," and agreed to do Porgy and Bess if Goldwyn would not let him out of the deal.
In April 1958, Goldwyn announced that after six months of tests of wide-screen and new sound recording processes, he had decided to use Todd-AO, which had six-track stereophonic sound. Sound Stage 6 at the Goldwyn studios was converted into a recording studio, and a 105-piece orchestra performed the score on Sound State 7 next door. Pre-recording of the soundtrack was planned to take two-and-a-half months. According to the film's pressbook, Ira Gershwin and Paul Whiteman were guests for the first session.
According to contemporary news stories, in the early morning of July 2, 1958, a studio guard discovered a fire in a sound stage at the Goldwyn Studios, where tests were to begin a few hours later with the main cast members of the film. The Charleston waterfront set was completely destroyed, along with all the costumes and the original sketches for them, $200,000 worth of rented electrical equipment, props that the studio accumulated in the previous thirty years, and the only acetate recordings of all the Goldwyn sound films. No one was injured, but damage was estimated to be between two and five million dollars. An arson squad sergeant doubted that the cause of the fire would ever be determined because of the extent of the damage.
Although reports circulated that minority groups unhappy with the production might have set the fire, studio officials rejected that possibility. Goldwyn denied that protests had been received by organizations objecting to the depiction of blacks, as had been reported by several Hollywood columnists, and stated that the NAACP had approved Nash's script. The chairman of the West Coast legal committee of the NAACP, Loren Miller, called the implications of the press reports "ridiculous" and noted that the NAACP was "looking forward to Mr. Goldwyn's production." Goldwyn announced that production would be halted until mid-Sep, but that the same cast would be in the film.
On July 27, 1958, the press was informed that Mamoulian had been replaced by Otto Preminger. In a press release, Goldwyn stated, "I have the greatest respect for Rouben Mamoulian, but he and I could not see eye to eye on various matters." Later, press reports stated that Goldwyn was unhappy with recent publicity given to Mamoulian and with Mamoulian's public statements concerning a number of matters over which he and Goldwyn disagreed. Two hours after the issuance of Goldwyn's press release, according to Hollywood Reporter, Mamoulian issued a statement charging, "In the eight months that I have been working on Porgy and Bess for the screen...there has not been one iota of dissention [sic] between me and Mr. Goldwyn concerning Porgy and Bess. There have been, however, other dissensions on his part unrelated to the production which were trespasses upon my private and professional life."
Mamoulian's complaints included Goldwyn's insistence that he fire his public relations counselor, Russell Birdwell, and work without compensation during the ten-week layoff period following the fire. Mamoulian claimed that Goldwyn wanted "to be identified publicity-wise as the sole creator" of the film. According to Mamoulian's agent, Irving Lazar, Mamoulian said he would not agree to a settlement, but would force Goldwyn to honor his contract. Lazar stated that the contract did not prevent Goldwyn from getting another director, and only required that Mamoulian be paid the entire amount due to him. This figure was quoted in the press as $75,000 plus 2 1/2% of the film's profits, and Mamoulian was paid the total amount owed to him as specified in his contract.
After Mamoulian's dismissal, Preminger, who twice came close to buying the rights to Porgy and Bess himself, according to Los Angeles Mirror-News, and had earlier directed the all-black cast musical Carmen Jones (see below), agreed to direct Porgy and Bess. Following Preminger's acceptance, Mamoulian complained to the Screen Directors Guild, which held a special meeting on July 28, 1958 to hear Mamoulian's complaints. They voted to invite Goldwyn to appear before the Guild board of directors and give his side of the dispute, but Goldwyn rejected the invitation. The Guild board reportedly was "profoundly disturbed" by Goldwyn's refusal to meet with them. On 2 Aug, Preminger walked out of a Guild meeting, and the Guild subsequently ruled that none of their members, which included directors and assistant directors, could work for Goldwyn until he became a signator to an interim agreement between the Association of Motion Picture Producers and the Guild, which he had not signed in April 1958, when the previous contract lapsed. At the time, a new "and hotly contested basic work contract" was in the process of being worked out.
On August 6, 1958, the president of the Negro Actors Guild of America, Leigh Whipper, an African-American actor who had previously worked with Mamoulian and was to appear in the film as "Crabman," gave a press conference with Birdwell in which he announced that he was withdrawing from the film. Whipper charged that with Preminger directing, the film was now "in hands unsympathetic to my people." Whipper stated, "Porgy and Bess has always been a theatrical property which, in unknowing or unsympathetic hands could be made and has been made an unfortunate slur upon my people. Porgy and Porgy and Bess have achieved the heights of human dignity and spiritual content when they have originally been directed by Mr. Rouben Mamoulian." Whipper also claimed to have "first hand information concerning the new director which brands him, to me, as a man who has no respect for my people." Whipper refused to divulge the source of his information, but claimed that it pertained to an incident that occurred ten years earlier involving a female African-American star. Whipper stated that in addition to being cast as Crabman, he had worked with Mamoulian as a script counselor "deleting words he felt would be detrimental to the Negro race," according to Daily Variety. The role of Crabman was subsequently performed by Scatman Crothers.
In response to Whipper's comments, Loren Miller of the NAACP stated, "I think that an attempt to make a racial issue out of the choice of directors on this picture is ill advised." Noble Sissle, co-founder and past president of the Negro Actors Guild of America, sent a telegram to Goldwyn stating, "Whatever Mr. Whipper's feelings were, whether right or wrong, we feel it was very unfair and unethical for him to express them as recently elected president of the Negro Actors Guild when he knows it is strictly against the life-long policy of the Guild to enter into such a damaging controversial affair involving accusations of racial discrimination." Many of the leading African-American cast members issued statements in support of Preminger and Goldwyn following Whipper's press conference. Pearl Bailey, who had appeared in Carmen Jones, told Hollywood Reporter, "Introduction of the racial issue into the controversy is the most vicious thing I ever heard of. I've worked with Mr. Preminger, and if he's anti-Negro I never saw nor heard it." Poitier called Whipper's statement "ridiculous," according to Variety.
On 7 Aug, after an exchange of letters with Goldwyn regarding the interim work agreement, the Screen Directors Guild granted waivers to Preminger and the assistant directors on the film to work for Goldwyn until a proposed meeting with Goldwyn on 13 Aug. In addition, the Guild agreed to "take under consideration" a charge by Preminger that he had been "defamed" by Mamoulian and Birdwell. Variety speculated that the Guild's move in support of Goldwyn and Preminger came as a backlash to Whipper's attack. In one of the board meetings, Preminger stated "I'm Jewish. I ran away from Hitler. How can they say I'm anti-Negro?" At the last minute, the Guild canceled its planned meeting with Goldwyn for 13 Aug.
According to New York Times, the Guild was criticized for basing their decision to have members boycott Goldwyn on Goldwyn's refusal to sign the interim agreement. New York Times also noted that Mamoulian's contract with Goldwyn was not negotiated through the Guild and specifically did allow for his dismissal. Although Mamoulian appealed to the Guild to have his name appear on the film, due to the preparation work he did, the Guild's board of directors ruled unanimously in February 1959 that Preminger was to receive sole credit as director.
In September 1958, Goldwyn made a number of staff changes, including substituting director of photography Leon Shamroy for Ellsworth Fredericks, who had been offered another film during the layoff period. In addition, actor Thaddeus Jones, who was cast as "Peter," was replaced by Clarence Muse (who played Porgy in the original West Coast production), and Everdinne Wilson was given a different role than originally planned. Assistant director Art Black left to work for Frank Capra, and production manager Gus Schroder was replaced by "Doc" Merman. Although October 1958 Hollywood Reporter news items place Don Foster and Joe Quinn in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. An April 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Mervin Houser and Bill Herbert were to be co-directors of publicity, but their contribution to the film has not been determined.
Filming began on September 22, 1958 on Venice Island in the San Joaquin River near Stockton, CA. The picnic and fish fry scenes were shot across the river at Tule Island. After ten days of location work, shooting moved to a Goldwyn sound stage, which Goldwyn closed to visitors, citing the dangerous work conditions with the large quantity of lights necessary for the Todd-AO process.
Songs performed by four of the characters were dubbed by singers other than the onscreen actors. In a Life magazine article, singer Robert McFerrin detailed the working process he and Poitier went through to create their role. McFerrin stated, "We had to get to know Porgy as a man. It could not be Poitier the actor or McFerrin the singer. It had to be Porgy, a blend of both." First Poitier read the lines, then acted them for McFerrin. Poitier then listened to recordings of McFerrin singing the songs and sang to the recordings while studying his appearance in a mirror. Although she was a well-known singer, Dorothy Dandridge's singing voice was dubbed because her soprano voice did not match McFerrin's baritone, in the opinion of the filmmakers. Although Goldwyn originally wanted all of the off-screen singers to be black, Diahann Carroll's voice was thought not to be right for the film; after scouts failed to find an available African-American whose voice was judged to be satisfactory, Loulie Jean Norman, a French-English white singer, was selected to perform "Summertime."
The film's production cost was over seven million dollars, according to Time. In September 1959, Goldwyn announced in the Beverly Hills Citizen, "No financial benefits can come to me, because every dollar of my profits are earmarked for charity through the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation." He estimated that he would need fifteen or sixteen million dollars to break even.
On March 1, 1961, Variety reported that Goldwyn was withdrawing the film from circulation in the South because of racial tension there. In Chapel Hill, NC, pickets protested the exclusion of blacks from a theater where the film had been shown. Critical reaction to the film was mixed. New York Times called it a "fine film version," while Daily Variety stated it was "a sometime thing." Daily Variety noted, "The racial stereotype dangers have mostly been sterilized and faded to innocuousness." In comparing the film with the stage productions, Daily Variety noted "This is not the gruesome Negro ghetto-underworld of the old Theatre Guild productions, though dope is still peddled. It would appear that in designing the set ... and in costuming the natives ... there was a conscious intention to show the environment and the garb as dirt-poor but never dirty." Other reviewers criticized the visual style as "cinematic monotony" (Time) and "a photographed stage production rather than a movie in the usual sense of the word" (Beverly Hills Citizen). A number of reviews commented on Sammy Davis, Jr.'s portrayal of "Sportin' Life." Bosley Crowther of New York Times wrote, "In previous stage production of this folk opera, Sportin' Life has come through as a sort of droll and impious rascal with the bright, lively quality of a minstrel man.... But there's nothing charming or sympathetic about the fellow that Mr. Davis plays. He's a comprehension of evil on an almost repulsive scale."
Porgy and Bess was Goldwyn's last film. It won an Academy Award for Best Scoring (Andre Previn and Ken Darby) and was nominated for Best Costume Design-Color (Irene Sharaff), Best Sound Recording (Gordon Sawyer) and Best Cinematography-Color (Leon Shamroy). The American Society of Recording Artists awarded the film a Grammy for best soundtrack of the year in any motion picture.
In April 1959, Breen, executive producer of the 1953 revival, sued Goldwyn and others associated with him, and demanded $5 million in damages, claiming he had been eased out of the film version and that Goldwyn took the film rights by "false and fraudulent promises." In 1963, the amount of the suit had changed to $2,350,000, and Breen claimed that he had been hired as associate producer for $750 a week and 5% of the profits, but that he left after five weeks because Goldwyn had not given him "joint artistic control." In March 1963, a jury decided in Goldwyn's favor.
In a January 19, 1993 Los Angeles Times article, Michael Strunsky, who was the sole trustee and executor of Ira Gershwin's estate, and the nephew of Gershwin's wife Leonore, stated that his uncle and aunt were critical of the film: "My aunt didn't want it distributed. She and my uncle felt it was a Hollywoodization of the piece. We [the estate] now acquire any prints we find and destroy them. We are often approached for permission to show the film, which we consistently deny." A subsequent letter published on November 27, 1994 in Los Angeles Times stated that "the safety negative was secure in the Goldwyn vaults."
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1959 New York Times Film Critics.
Released in United States 1959
Released in United States 1998
Shown at WideScreen Film Festival in Long Beach, California October 23-25 and October 30 - November 1, 1998.
Ruben Mamoulian was the original director, up until pre-production, and then was replaced by Otto Preminger.
Producer Samuel Goldwyn's last film.
Shot and released in 70mm Todd-AO.
Released in United States 1959
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at WideScreen Film Festival in Long Beach, California October 23-25 and October 30 - November 1, 1998.)