A shaven-headed little boy called Peter (Dean Stockwell) is found wandering alone one night, and a the police can't get a word out of him. A lawyer (Robert Ryan) is called, and Peter tells him of the circumstances which led to him having his hair cut off. A war orphan, he quietly lived with his kindly Irish grandfather until one morning he woke up to find his hair had turned green - then his life became a misery...
This well-meaning allegory was written by Ben Barzman and Alfred Lewis Levitt, from a story by Betsy Beaton, and was presumably a way of cheering up the war orphans left in the wake of World War II. It also has ambitions as an anti-war parable, and as a plea for tolerance - in fact, it packs too much in, so much that the gentle fantasy at its heart buckles under the strain.
Yet it's still underrated by many. Just as the story uses a fantasy element to make its serious points, Peter (Stockwell proves to be well-cast) makes up stories to cope with his tragic situation, and his grandfather (Pat O'Brien is at his most loveable here) invents tales of meeting kings to cheer him up. Peter is in denial about his parents' death, telling himself that they will be home soon, and he will have the cosy days of his early childhood back again.
Although he is treated with sympathy by most people for the first half of the film, when his hair turns green, he is subjected to the bullying that many orphans must have faced. The adults want him to cut his hair off because rumour has it that the water or the milk is contaminated, and the children single him out for being different. An interesting scene has a group of boys chasing Peter to cut his hair; he hides, then helps one of his pursuers find his lost glasses, only to have the boy turn on him once he can see again, showing how no good deed goes unpunished.
In a strange bit, posters of war orphans come to life and tell Peter he must use his green hair to draw attention to ending war. He now has a purpose, but the sentiment is naive, even if the film appears to feel that war is an ever-present threat. Maybe the people who made this film felt that they could improve the world just as Peter tries to, and the ending is optimistic, but what you're left with is a sense of melancholy about prejudice and the apparent futility of trying to change the world for the better. It's worth trying, though, eh? Music by Leigh Harline.
Cerebral, at times pretentious, American director, from the theatre. His American career (The Boy with Green Hair, a remake of M, The Prowler) was short-lived due to the Hollywood anti-Communist blacklist, and Losey escaped to Britain.