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Flashback: 'One Potato, Two Potato' (Miscegenation-Dependent Custody Battle In 1960s USA)

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 10, 2013 5:58 PM
8 Comments
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Anyone seen this film?

Researching for another post, on YouTube, when I landed on the below clip for a film called One Potato, Two Potato - a title unfamiliar to me. 

So, as I always do, I looked it up, and learned that the black and white movie is centered on the relationship between a white mid-western woman, in 1964 Ohio, and the black man she remarries, after her white husband leaves her and their child, a young daughter. When her ex-husband discovers that she's married a black man, he fights her for custody of their child.

The below scene appears to be the tail end of the film, but there's enough there (as well as in the few other short clips from the film I located) to captivate me. The climax of the story is a highly emotional courtroom sequence in which the woman's angry ex-husband charges that the child's welfare is threatened by the environment created by her marriage to a black man.

The film screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1964, and I read one review from a writer who was actually present for that screening, who stated that, when it ended, the entire audience sat in silence, speechless, because they were emotionally drained! 

Sounds heavy, although I couldn't really tell from the few minutes of it that I watched.

The film's star Barbara Barrie, won the Cannes award for Best Actress. Co-starring along with Barrie were Harry BellaverBernie Hamilton (who played the black man she remarries), and Robert Earl Jones - James Earl Jones' father.

Bernie Hamilton, whom I wasn't at all familiar with before, would go on to co-star in many more films, as well as TV shows, into the 1980s. He died in 2008.

The film was directed, on what is said to have been a shoestring budget, by Larry Peerce (his directorial debut), from a screenplay penned by Raphael Hayes and Orville H. Hampton, who were both nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1965. 

By all accounts, it's not available on any home video format. I checked Netflix (both DVD and streaming), and Amazon (all I found was a poster for the film).

It doesn't even appear to be on VHS. Surely, someone has the film on some home video format, old or current.

Of course I checked TCM (Turner Classic Movies), and the film was last broadcast on that channel in 2010, according to their website anyway. And there doesn't seem  to be any future screenings of it planned. 

Has anyone seen this film in full, and/or has a copy of it? I'm curious... given the time this was made and released, it must have been quite a pot stirrer. 

Watch the courtroom scene in which the judge gives his final verdict, and the reaction that follows:

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8 Comments

  • Julius Freeman | May 28, 2014 7:20 AMReply

    I saw this movie when I was 4 years-old & I had never seen anything like it before. Unfortunately, this clip isn't the final scene & though only 4, that ending definitely upset me, as well as the unfairness of it all.

    It's been 50 years since I first saw this movie & if I didn't remember anything else about it, I never forgot that ending & watching this little girl run after that car to be with her mother & her step-father.

    They shot most of that scene from the vantage point of the mother driving away in the car. And that was one heart-wrenching scene for 1964, or for that matter, 2014.

    It was a excellent movie which perhaps due to today's politically correct times, has been largely forgotten & that is a shame. I have a copy of it that I had gotten from somewhere & perhaps I should watch it for old-times sake.

  • Lin | February 12, 2014 7:25 PMReply

    I saw this film and judging by the date of its release I must have been about 16 years old. I lived in a suburb of Detroit, so this movie must have been showing at what we used to call an "art film" theater in those days, which meant it showed foreign films and small independent films. I am white, I lived in a segregated burb, and had virtually no contact with any people of color, but I had been best friends since the mid-50's with a girl whose whole family had been very active in the Civil Rights movement and who had given me a consciousness about it that I would never have had otherwise. Though they were also white, they had been members of SNCC and CORE which back then had had white people in them, and had regularly marched in demonstrations in Detroit in the 50's and early 60's, and as I spent a lot of time at their house, I saw and heard a lot. I saw that film and have never forgotten it, and have never forgotten Barbara Barrie. It made a huge impact on me. I hope that it will be "rediscovered". There are still a lot of people who could benefit from seeing it still! All you have to do is look around to see that while it's true that there have been some really enormous changes in the world since 1964 - and I've seen many of them - not as much has changed as some people think. What a great movie - I would love to see it again and hope that maybe TCM or better yet, someplace like HBO or SHOWTIME or some non-"premium" cable station will show it. Thanks for your post.

  • Marie | January 30, 2014 11:09 PMReply

    This film was one of the most impactful films of my childhood, growing up in Oakland, Ca. I don't remember all the details but saw it on television and I remember sobbing uncontrollably at the end while my mother tried to soothe me. My white parents were recently divorced. Although it was still a secret I knew my mom was in love with our neighbor who was black and married at the time. I couldn't have been more than 8 or 9. I think I knew I would never be taken from my mother but just knowing that could happen in some parts of the country crushed me. I'm now 54, my 92 year old mother just passed on and this film came to mind so I googled it and found this site. I would love to see it again, although it was heart wrenching. It was something my mother and I shared and felt deeply together.

  • Elaine | June 16, 2013 6:09 PMReply

    I saw this film around the time it was made in the mid 1960s. The fact that I saw it is amazing in itself. I am White and was was living in the suburbs of Boston. I saw the movie as part of a double feature at the local drive-in theatre with some friends. Both the movies had Black themes. I had lived a rather sheltered live as far as meeting people from other races and backgrounds, so these movies weren't like anything I had ever seen. I don't recall how I reacted at the time to the movie, but within the next 5 years or so, I met a number of African Americans through my job and became friends. And the subject of the movie can up. We didn't have VCRs in those days, so it was many years later that I was able to watch it again. At some point over 10 years ago I was able to tape it on my VCR when it aired on my local PBS station. I was so thrilled when it aired. It was a wonderfully made, heartfelt film that dealt with the realities of the time and the pain of separation from one's child. Parts of it was very painful to watch and the ending was heart wrenching. I was cleaning out my old entertainment center this week and came across the movie and decided it was a keeper even if my VCR is becoming extinct. I Googled the movie to see if it was available in DVD format, but it doesn't seem to be. I'm going to look into having it transferred over to a DVD. It is one of those movies that touches you so deeply in your heart and soul that it can never be forgotten.

  • Monie | April 11, 2013 5:44 PMReply

    I saw the film on TCM in 2010. I think they screened it during their "February Black History Month" series ;-) I agree that it is much better than "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." It is also emotionally exhausting - very raw and real. It's amazing that such a film was made in the 60's, but not surprising that it got "buried." The overwhelming weight and cruelty of prejudice is treated honestly and tackled head on. Excellent film. Please let us know if you ever find copies.

  • Darryl | April 11, 2013 3:51 PMReply

    I'm glad you shined some light on this film. One Potato, Two Poatato is a forgotten great film. It is better than Guess who's coming to Dinner as Andy has mentioned. It's realistic on how it deals with racism and what the couple go through. The lead characters are everyday people that are put in this situation simply because they love each other. This film was way ahead of it's time. It dealt with interracial marriage in a raw form that I haven't seen other than Jungle Fever and this is a movie that was made in the 60's in the civil rights movement so you can imagine the backlash for dealing with it in this type of manner the way the writer and director decided to do. Hopefully one day they will release the movie on dvd for the public can get a chance to see a great film. I finally got a chance to see it on TCM.

  • Andy | April 10, 2013 9:58 PMReply

    Last fall my English class was assigned an article on Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (a film that we eventually screened). In the article, which I have lying around somewhere, the author favored One Potato, Two Potato over GWCTD as a superior and essentially more realistic film. We glossed over that idea, but I became intrigued and it ended up that my university had OPTP in its library. I don't know how the university library acquired it, but it didn't look like an official DVD, more like someone printed out a paper jacket online, placed it in a blank DVD package, and inserted a DVD.

    As far as the film goes, I can't speak highly enough of it. I don't want to "build it up" and ruin expectations, but in my personal opinion its unflinching portrayal of an interracial couple in the midst of a complicated legal battle is far more nuanced and uncompromising than GWCTD in dealing with interracial struggles in the 60s (and even the now).

  • Sergio | April 10, 2013 8:02 PMReply

    Tambay you mean you never once saw Starsky and Hutch TV show? Hamilton played Cpt Dobey on the show during its run. Of course I've seen it but it was many years ago and only once on a local PBS station. Very powerful film which is never cloying or preachy. I can imagine it had quite an impact when it came out and there were a lot of place, in particular the South, where it wasn't shown. Oddly I was just thinking about the film the other day wondering if it was available on DVD. Seems it never has been. Could be an ownership problem or just one of those films which has sadly fallen through the cracks

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