Produced by Stanley Kramer, A Child is Waiting is set in an institution for the mentally handicapped, with many actual residents playing supporting and bit roles. Doctor Burt Lancaster and instructor Judy Garland often find themselves at odds over teaching methods, with Garland preferring an intense one-on-one approach with her students.
Bruce Ritchey, a non-developmentally challenged youth, plays the retarded son of Gena Rowlands and Steven Hill, whose intellectual and social progress becomes the focal point of the film.
The most uplifting sequence in A Child is Waiting takes place during a play staged by the genuinely handicapped children for their parents; while director John Cassavetes gilds the lily with close-ups of the teary-eyed audience, the kids themselves are earnest, engaging, and totally devoid of self-pity. According to Stanley Kramer, Judy Garland left her best work in this film on the cutting room floor; whenever completing a scene in which she'd exercised professional restraint, she'd insist upon a retake, then resort to the sobbing and breast-beating that her fans had come to expect.