Softly-spoken Selina D’Arcy (Elizabeth Hartman in her film debut) is accidentally blinded by her prostitute mother, Rose-Ann D’Arcy (Shelley Winters), at the age of five.
She then lives a life of servitude with her middle-aged, foul-mouthed mother and alcoholic grandfather (Wallace Ford) – until the day she goes to the park to string beads for extra cash.
There she meets the first kind person she has ever known, thoughtful young office worker Gordon Ralfe (Poitier).
They continue to meet in the park every afternoon and quickly develop a deep bond, with him teaching her how to get along in the city (Selina’s entire life has been spent alone and indoors, and she has never learned how to read Braille or to get around on her own) and her falling in love with him, unaware that he is black.
But Rose-Ann – who can see only bad in any man – tries to separate her daughter from the African American Gordon, believing that a life of prostitution would be better for Selina than happiness with a black man.
Winters won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of the cruel, domineering Rose-Ann.
Scenes of Sidney Poitier and Elizabeth Hartman kissing were cut from the film when it was shown in cinemas in the American South, where many states still had laws against so-called “race-mixing”.
Selina aged 5