This thought-provoking and rather delightful comedy is about a middle-class American black family: father Gideon and mother Susie, with their two sons and their wives, Junior (the eldest) and Babe Brother (the youngest). Originally from the deep South, they have relocated to Los Angeles and are starting to unravel from the cultural tensions between old and new ways.
Into the household bursts Harry, an unexpected and seemingly benevolent visitor from back home, who exploits the family’s tensions out of self-interest and pure devilment. Beguiling, cunning and crafty, Harry is both charmer and menace, teaching the youngest son to cheat at cards one moment, quoting Pushkin the next. (These scenes effectively cut back and forth with the family’s other activities, which include going to church services and being baptized). Giving Harry the benefit of doubt, Susie gently says, “You can always find something redeeming in even the worst person.”
Harry, though, continues to be a disruptive force, telling backwoods stories that conjure up memories of laying railroad tracks, or working like farm animals, which ever so subtly begin to have their effect on Babe Brother, who isn’t exactly getting along with his father or older brother. At Harry’s urging, Gideon arranges a “fish fry”, for which Harry summons up his raffish old friends to enjoy corn liquor.
When Gideon takes ill, the pastor and church come to pray over him. Sick of Harry’s evil influence, Susie asks him to leave. Babe Brother wants to go with Harry, but Susie warns him he is going in the wrong direction. A briefly violent scuffle ensues between Babe and Junior, but ends with their reconciliation. Then, almost comically, things begin to change…
This is not an action-packed film, but rather a parable filled with introspective talks that shed insight into human behavior and on a culture emerging from one way of life to another. Reveling in the old way and resenting the new, it seems that Harry went “to sleep,” as it were, “with anger.” He stands in sharp contrast to the new life, which is characterized by reform, responsibility and church attendance. One character, in fact, rebuffs Harry’s sexual advances with a frank admonition of being “saved now.”
The characters in this all-black cast are believable and realistically drawn. Babe Brother, resentful of his successful loan-officer brother, struggles with making money. Gideon still retains a hint of superstition, but Susie flatly stifles him and says she doesn’t want to hear jokes about any people being in hell. The best performance is by Harry, charismatically played by Danny Glover.
TO SLEEP WITH ANGER is an upbeat, entertaining film that many Christians will enjoy. A slight caution is issued, however, for eight minor obscenities.
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Mr. Samuel Goldwyn, Jr.
The Samuel Goldwyn Co.
10203 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90067