Pressure point, a film by Hubert Cornfield featuring Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier, passed away this month at the ripe old age of 94. Most of us know that he was the first black person to win the Academy award for Best actor. What very few know however is that he was also the movies’ first Black psychiatrist.
The Pulitzer prize-winning critic Wesley Morris wrote of him
“The greatest American movie star Sidney Poitier. You mean the greatest black movie star? I don’t…. Who did more with less? Of whom was less expected as much as more? Who had more eyes and more daggers, more hopes and fears and intentions aimed his way, at his person, his skill and, by extension, his people? Race shouldn’t matter here. But it must, since Hollywood made his race the matter. Movie after movie insisted he be the Black man for white America, which he was fine with, of course. He was Black.”
Why did I choose this film? The overarching theme of this film is the feelings of countertransference between doctor and patient. An added layer of complexity is the dynamics of religion and race in the therapy-patient relationship.
What’s the film about? The film is based on American psychologist Robert Lindner’s casebook “The Fifty-Minute Hour.” The plot of the movie is misconceived and most unsound, and precisely why I would use it with therapists-in-training. Sidney Poitier plays the senior psychiatrist in a “mental institution.” An unnamed young psychiatrist (Peter Falk) enters and demands that he should be taken off the case of a hostile black patient who has been the victim of white hatred. After seven months of treatment, he believes they are stuck in an impasse. He (Falk) wants the case transferred to a Black psychiatrist. The film goes back and forth, to the senior psychiatrist (Poitier) recounting his own similar experience of a psychopathic, Nazi, white supremacist client from 20 years ago. The film bordered on the absurd. I don’t do so well with absurd films. In the film, Poiters character is portrayed as noble and idealist to a fault (sigh). This created a major conflict for me. It is highly entertaining to watch and deconstruct alongside a group of university students of psychology or sociology- and this is primarily why I recommend it. Fair warning though – the music is a tad bit grotesque and I suspect that the cinematographer was grossly underpaid. The movie certainly did not do justice to the talented actors.
Where can I watch the film in India? You can watch it for free (at least for now) on YouTube, or pay for a subscription and stream it.

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