The Legend of Homer Smith
In celebration of the first century of motion pictures, the Vatican published a 1995 list of what somebody there considered the top 45 films of all time: fifteen each in the categories of religion, values, and art. Although broadly international in flavor, the list includes a dozen or so American films, although not some of the best actually Catholic films made in the U.S. Not Song of Bernadette, Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, or the biggest miss of all: Lilies of the Field, a film worthy of inclusion in each of those categories.
Lilies is best known, of course, as the breakout movie for Sidney Poitier, who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1964. Director Ralph Nelson’s film was also nominated in five other categories, including Best Picture – and might well have won the top prize were it not for Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones, which was nominated for ten Oscars and won four. (Albert Finney would have won that best-actor award as Tom Jones had he not been up against Poitier’s Homer Smith.)
Lilies was based upon the 1962 novella of the same name by William E. Barrett, which differs in some ways from the movie, although both are meditations on faith and freedom; about how God can use us humans to achieve ends we never intended to pursue.