Sidney Poitier stars in the quiet, poignant 1963 film Lilies of the Field. Poitier plays Homer Smith, a roaming, ex-GI handyman. While driving through the Arizona desert, Smith’s car breaks down outside a farm owned by 5 German nuns. He is persuaded by the Mother Superior, Mother Maria, to do some minor repairs on their roof. Believing that he will be paid for his duties, Smith soon finds the nuns are unwilling to settle their debts. Instead, the penniless nuns coax Smith to stay for some meager scraps of food. Against his better judgment, the ever-drifting Smith remains with the nuns and soon the handyman and the sisters form an unlikely bond. As the story progresses, Smith comes to appreciate the nuns and he ends up learning more from them then he ever thought possible.
The film belongs to Sidney Poitier as the brazen, yet sensitive Homer Smith. From teaching the nuns English to harmonizing with the sisters on some Baptist hymns, Poitier anchors the film in an incredible Oscar-winning performance (and in doing so, becomes the first black actor to win a competitive Oscar). Providing a dramatic counter-point to Poitier’s character is Lilia Skala, nominee, (185) as the hard core, nun-in-charge, Mother Maria. Maria sees Smith’s arrival as an act of divination. She believes God has sent Smith to her in order to build the sisters a chapel. Skala is formidable and endearing as the bilingual Mother Maria. Skala’s scene with Poitier in which the two square off in a bible-quoting duel is truly a joy. Skala went up against some incredible competition in the Supporting Actress race: a trio of ladies from Best Picture winner Tom Jones (Diane Cilento, Dame Edith Evans, and Joyce Redman- the only film in history to possess three Best Supporting Actress nominees) and the eventual winner, Margaret Rutherford in The V.I.P.’s