A novel and noble endeavor to say something withering against war on behalf of the world's unnumbered children who are the most piteous victims thereof is made in the RKO picture, "The Boy With Green Hair," a fantasy-drama in color, which opened at the Palace yesterday. But the fact that the effort is earnest is no surety of its success. For all its proper intentions, the gesture falls short of its aim.
As mere sentimental entertainment, this tale of a lad whose hair turns green as a sort of miraculous token of the cruelty of war is unevenly appealing, it being, in certain respects, a beneficiary of the pattern of the charming "On Borrowed Time." The lad in the case is an orphan and he lives with a kindly old man who has a rare tenderness toward children—and who goes by the winning name of "Gramp." Furthermore, this attractive youngster becomes obsessed with a frightening idea, from which his gentle old guardian attempts to protect and deliver him.
In its scan of the poignant relations between the elderly man and the troubled boy, this film does project intimations of real compassion which are irresistible. And it profits in this projection from cozy performances by Dean Stockwell as the youngster and Pat O'Brien as the old man. Master Stockwell is lovable yet sturdy, diminutive yet strong, and Mr. O'Brien is softly sentimental without going into "Hearts and Flowers."
But, unfortunately, the idea with which the lad becomes obsessed—and which is, supposedly, responsible for his hair turning green—is weakly motivated. And the fanciful device of rendering his hair symbolic is not only arbitrary but vague.
It is not established, for instance, whether all this we see on the screen—the phenomenal hirsute coloration and the resentment of the townsfolk thereto—is supposed to be a boy's hallucination, just another of a couple he has, or whether it is intended as a strictly whimsical device. If the former, it isn't consistent with the evident fancies of this lad's mind. If the latter, it is strangely inconclusive, when pictured thusly. And, frankly, it's banal.
For it might stand to reason that a youngster of a particularly introverted sort could be so upset by anxieties that he would sense an extreme conspicuousness. And he might even tie up this fancy in a childish way with the victimizations of war. But to reason, in adult whimsey, that wars are caused by such a superficial thing as resentment of coloration is absurd and misleading.
It is very much to be regretted that Ben Barzman and Alfred Lewis Levitt, in writing this film's script from a modest little story by Betsy Beaton, and Joseph Losey in directing it, did not clarify the implication. Not only is it now confused, but one gets the uncomfortable feeling that it is just a bright adult notion gone wrong. The use of the by-now quite hackneyed "Nature Boy" as a musical theme does not dignify the conception. The supporting cast is adequate...