Combustible Celluloid
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With: Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey, Willard E. Pugh, Akosua Busia, Desreta Jackson, Adolph Caesar, Rae Dawn Chong, Dana Ivey, Leonard Jackson, Bennet Guillory, John Patton Jr., Carl Anderson, Susan Beaubian, Laurence Fishburne
Written by: Menno Meyjes, based on a novel by Alice Walker
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 154
Date: 12/16/1985

The Color Purple (1985)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Mister's Deeds

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After a career of childlike adventures and popcorn movies, this was Steven Spielberg's first attempt at a grown-up film. Based on the novel by Alice Walker, and adapted by Menno Meyjes, it's very heavy material, and Spielberg began practicing the balancing of high and low moments, or giving audiences happy little rewards for enduring scenes of terrible anguish. He doesn't quite get the balance, and it feels over-stretched in the upbeat direction. (He fared better on his two subsequent dramas, Empire of the Sun and Schindler's List.) Yet very few filmmakers are as skilled as Spielberg in the storytelling department, and while you're watching it, it's hard not to be affected.

The story begins in the early part of the 20th century. Whoopi Goldberg stars as Celie, the brave and shy woman who was impregnated by her father and has two children that were taken away from her. She's forced to endure marriage with the selfish Albert (Danny Glover), who instead wants Celie's sister Nettie, and when he can't have her, he turns his attentions to juke-joint singer Shug Avery (Margaret Avery). Shug comes to stay in their home, and unexpectedly befriends Celie, eventually helping bring some justice and self-respect to her life.

Goldberg became a star with her heartbreaking performance, showing shyness with her eyes and hiding her huge smile. Glover, who was in Witness the same year, never did, and still never does, get any credit for his nervous, blocky performance, combining joy, frustration and violence. Oprah Winfrey, Adolph Caesar and Rae Dawn Chong also star. Quincy Jones provided the film's overwhelming score, and Allen Daviau's lush, airy cinematography gave the film a dimension of myth. The film was nominated for 11 Oscars but didn't win anything.

The 2003 special edition DVD from Warner Home Video comes with several "making of" documentaries interviewing director Steven Spielberg and original Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker. The 2011 Blu-Ray also includes a featurette about the Broadway musical based on the book and this film.

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