Monday Movie: For Love of Ivy, by David Bax
Every Monday, we’ll highlight a piece of writing from our vaults. This article originally ran as a Home Video Hovel review.
The most arresting credit in the opening titles of Daniel Mann’s For Love of Ivy isn’t the listing of the cast, even though it includes Sidney Poitier, Beau Bridges and Carroll O’Connor. It isn’t even the notice that the music is by none other than Quincy Jones, even though it’s a very good score. No, the thing that most caught my attention was the title card announcing that the story is by Poitier himself. One year after Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, right smack dab in the summer of love, what was it that Poitier wanted to say in this, another tale of Black Americans on the playing field of wealthy whites?
Ivy (Abbey Lincoln) is the live-in maid to a wealthy white family whose patriarch, Frank (O’Connor) owns a department store. When Ivy tells the family that she is leaving after nine long years to move into the city and live her own life, they are distraught, especially the young adult children, Tim (Bridges) and Gena (Lauri Peters), who then hatch a plot to convince Ivy to stay. Working under the assumption that her decision comes from being lonely in love, they decide to set her up on a date with Jack (Poitier), the owner of the trucking company that handles the department store’s deliveries.
That Tim and Gena, liberal hippie types, never think to just ask Ivy whether she’s lonely or, better yet, simply believe her initially stated reasons for leaving is a sadly relevant illustration of the cluelessness and condescension of so many white “allies.” The two are a precursor to the fictional couple from BlackPeopleLoveUs.com, except For Love of Ivy comes from a Black creator, thereby avoiding that website’s discomfiting racism feedback loop. Bridges has a particularly good handle on the mildly woke, rich kid dilletante layabout, a role he would only go on to perfect in The Landlord two years later.
Poitier might be the creative force behind For Love of Ivy and likely the main reason it got made in the first place but even he is aware that he’s not the star of the show. Lincoln, at once charming and sturdy, carries the picture marvelously. Ivy and Jack talk about a great many things in their time together, most of them about the similarities and differences of their own “Black experience” in America. Lincoln is deeply charming but also deftly relays the lack of respect Ivy gets from her white employers and from men of any skin color. It brings to mind Malcolm X’s famous quote, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” For Love of Ivy is no Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and that’s a good thing.