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Review: Larry Peerce's Groundbreaking Exploration of Ignorance, Prejudice and Racism 'One Potato, Two Potato' Worth a Revisit

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jun 15, 2021
Review: Larry Peerce's Groundbreaking Exploration of Ignorance, Prejudice and Racism 'One Potato, Two Potato' Worth a Revisit

Larry Peerce's groundbreaking exploration of ignorance, prejudice, and racism, "One Potato, Two Potato," was released in 1964, one year before Guy Green's "A Patch of Blue" and three years before Stanley Kramer's heavily (and deservedly) lauded, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." It was Peerce's directorial debut, and the film received an Oscar-nomination for Best Original Screenplay (Orville H. Hampton and Raphael Hayes).

Barbara Barrie was cast as a Julie, a Midwestern mom whose husband Joe ("Soap's" Richard Mulligan in his film debut) has left her alone to raise a young girl. Julie meets and falls in love with Frank ("Starkey and Hutch" vet Bernie Hamilton), a Black man. They marry, move in with his parents, and have a child of their own. But Joe returns, and demands custody of the girl.

There are some very potent scenes in "One Potato, Two Potato," and one need not have to contextualize for them to resonate. The laws and some attitudes might have changed, but racism is still rampant in our country.

Peerce, who would go on to direct "The Incident," "Goodbye, Columbus," and "Ash Wednesday," as well as a slew of TV movies and series, gives his film the right amount of grit, and the pacing is what it should be. But the acting is wildly erratic — depending on the scene, it's often either too restrained or too over the top. And it surprised me to learn that Barrie won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress, since I found her acting choices to be problematic.

The best performance is by Mulligan, who is most remembered for his TV comedies, but is scarily powerful here as a man who has been taught to hate for no reason other than Frank's skin color.

Kino has fully restored the film from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, and Andrew Laszlo's stark and stirring black and white photography has been preserved nicely. The sound is a bit distorted at times.

The Special Features include an illuminating audio commentary by film historian and critic Sergio Mims, as well as a terrific 25-minute interview with director Larry Peerce, where he discusses the true stories the film was based on and puts the movie in a political and social context, insightfully drawing parallels with what is going on today. Peerce also reveals that no one would buy the film until it won at Cannes.

"One Potato, Two Potato" is worth a look for daring to take on explosive subject matter at the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Extras Include:

  • 4K Restoration from the Original Camera Negative
  • NEW Interview with Director Larry Peerce
  • NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historian and Critic Sergio Mims
  • Trailers

    "One Potato, Two Potato" is available on DVD and Blu-ray June 15, 2021.

  • Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute

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