Among the wave of socially conscious dramas emerging in late 1940s Hollywood, director Joseph Losey’s “The Boy with Green Hair” stood out for its poignant anti-war message cloaked in a deceptively fantastical premise.
Released in 1948, this allegorical tale follows a war orphan named Peter who awakens to find his hair mysteriously turned green, facing ridicule and accusations of being un-American as he struggles to uncover the cause.
Amid the paranoia of its era, “The Boy with Green Hair” conveyed a powerful rebuke of society’s animosity and groupthink, advocating for compassion toward outcasts and non-conformists.
With its recent Blu-ray release by Warner Archive Collection, this unique film – part charming youth fable, part heart-wrenching drama – can now be re-appraised for its bold humanism and continued resonance.
A Daring Parable for Its Era
Adapted from a children’s story by Betsy Beaton, the film version tackled weighty allegory through impressionistic stylistic touches. Losey foregoes realism to craft an otherworldly tale, using young protagonist Peter’s green locks as a metaphor for the persecution of those deemed different.
As Peter faces stigma from neighbors, schoolmates and authority figures, “The Boy with Green Hair” confronts the reflexive hostility society often shows toward outsiders. Though initially playful, the story grows increasingly serious in examining groupthink and prejudice.
In one striking scene, Peter encounters a kindly barber who also hides green hair beneath a gray wig, afraid to publicly express his true self due to past trauma. Their exchange emphasizes the psychological toll of prejudice.
For 1948, these themes pushed boundaries. Blacklisted soon after for supposed Communist ties, Losey imbued this youth parable with daring political undertones. Its pleas for empathy and nonconformity resonated as both anti-war statement and call for social unity.
A Career-Defining Turn for Dean Stockwell
In the central role of Peter, 12-year-old Dean Stockwell gave an open, unaffected performance that grounds the surreal premise in raw emotion. Having starred in films like “Anchors Aweigh” as a child actor, here Stockwell channeled isolation and trauma beyond his years.
As Peter grapples with anger, bewilderment and despair at his green hair marking him an outcast, Stockwell conveys gut-wrenching vulnerability. His interactions with the kindly adult characters maintain hope despite pervasive cruelty.
For Stockwell, the lead part represents one of his most nuanced childhood film roles. He stands out amid an ensemble of veteran character actors like Robert Ryan as liberal journalist John Wellington. But Stockwell’s presence and rapport with the camera carry the allegory.
Timely Commentary on Postwar Malaise
Beneath its fantastical concept, “The Boy with Green Hair” spoke to a climate of paranoia and unease within postwar American life. Released just after HUAC hearings began, the film warned against persecuting those deemed unpatriotic or abnormal.
Peter’s hair visually manifests the trauma of losing his soldier parents to war violence. When Peter learns the green color signifies grief and compassion for all war’s victims, he resolves to spread an anti-violence message despite backlash.
Losey illustrates how easily societal fear toward outsiders spreads. At school, mere rumors about Peter’s hair trigger mass hysteria among students and staff. The film exposes mob mentalities that punish those who deviate from conformity.
These themes took on timely resonance as Cold War anxieties escalated. “The Boy with Green Hair” encouraged humane attitudes and resistance to stifling homogeneity even amid McCarthyesque finger-pointing surrounding Communism and patriotism.
A Cinematic Time Capsule in Stellar New Restoration
On a visual level, this allegory utilizes heightened techniques that accentuate its parable-like tone. Fantasy sequences rendered in negative expose the turmoil beneath Peter’s cheery exterior. Dutch camera angles reinforce his disorientation and alienation.
Supported by an emotive score by respected avant-garde composer Hanns Eisler, the film’s look encapsulates postwar disquiet via expressionism and exaggerated style. These artistic flourishes underscore the psychological import of its anti-prejudice themes.
Warner Archive Collection’s new HD restoration lovingly preserves this meticulous cinematography. Crisper contrast showcases the dreamlike imagery, while cleaned-up damage allows Losey’s humanist vision to shine through.
For classic film fans, “The Boy with Green Hair” now can be appreciated anew as a cinematic time capsule of postwar Hollywood. This overlooked treasure seems tailor-made for modern reappraisal of its audacious themes packaged in allegorical fantasy.
An Enduring Legacy That Still Resonates
Upon its initial release, some critics dismissed the film as overly didactic or bewildering. But it also garnered praise as a bold, humanizing drama that confronted xenophobia. Since then, re-evaluations have focused on its impassioned anti-war themes.
Seen now, “The Boy with Green Hair” embodied Hollywood’s fleeting progressive consciousness between 1946-1950 before blacklisting stifled provocative content. Its masterful blending of sociopolitical commentary with accessible storytelling deserves recognition.
At just 79 minutes, this allegorical tale retains emotional power through visual poetry and compassionate pleas for nonconformity. Stockwell’s affecting lead performance further grounds its humanism.
While certain elements date the film as a product of its era, its rallying cry against prejudice and conformity remains sadly relevant. As fearmongering and tribal mentalities proliferate today, “The Boy with Green Hair” offers inspiration to empathize beyond divisions.
Nearly 75 years after its release, this daring parable reminds us we all possess reasons to feel isolated and defensive. But its faith in the courage of outcasts prevails as an antidote to societal callousness – proving great humanist art can emerge from even the most paranoid climates.
What did Warner Archive bring to The Boy with Green Hair Blu-ray?
Warner Archive slays it again with The Boy with Green Hair. The Blu-ray is rather stacked when compared to its various old DVD releases. You only get a vintage short subject with the film. But, I appreciate trying to reconstruct the original theatrical exhibition as much as possible on movies like this. The A/V Quality is so much sharper than my old standard DVD.
While we don’t have a robust way to show off the DTS-HD 2.0 mono track for these releases, go ahead and enjoy the screenshots. I feel they do enough to showcase this stunning 1080p transfer of a film that has slipped out of the mainstream.