A CHILD IS WAITING came and went in 1963, it’s poignancy lost amidst the stampeding buffaloes, Egyptian pageantry and Brit bawdiness of the years epics, and has rarely surfaced since, which makes rediscovering the unusual emotional drama a neat surprise and occasion to give overdue applause to its sincere intentions and quietly good work.
Producer Stanley Kramer fit this small ($2,000,000 cost and 102 minutes) and personal story between his star-packed broadsides Judgement At Nuremberg and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and relinquished directorial reins to newcomer John Cassavetes, who’d only helmed two small films, and had an improvisational, cinema verite style quite different in approach from Kramer’s and the standard industry manner.
Kramer/Cassavetes had two big-name talents and temperaments to manage: Burt Lancaster, at the top of his game after an Oscar for Elmer Gantry and a nomination for Birdman Of Alcatraz; and his co-star from ‘Nuremberg‘, a nerve-rent Judy Garland. Added to the volatile mix of talent and ego were Gena Rowlands (Cassavetes’ wife) and an intense Steven Hill. For extra combustion there was bad boy Lawrence Tierney, banished off-screen for a eight years after studios deemed his violent alcoholic personal life too much to mess with.
All were combined in a unique story about the problems of a director (Burt) of a state institution for mentally & emotionally handicapped children, and his new assistant teacher (with her own issues), embodied by Judy. The children were played by non-actors who were actually mentally handicapped, which adds tremendously to the immediacy of the drama.
Garland, drinking heavily, was a handful during the shoot and Kramer took heated issue with Cassavetes during the editing process, ultimately firing him. The maverick young director disavowed the result. Whatever turf-trauma transpired between takes, the stars are both restrained and quite effective, and Hill is flat superb. The public didn’t flock, with the box-office taking only $1,910,000. Also featuring John Marley, Paul Stewart and Elizabeth Wilson. Abby Mann wrote the script.