Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Pinky (1949)

Pinky is not a particularly well-know film, and there are very few people who would indeed consider it to as a film that deserves to be well known. Pinky is the kind of film you watch because you are a fan of Elia Kazan. That said, an interesting fact I recently discovered about the film is that John Ford was originally appointed to direct the film, however, producer Darryl F. Zanuck fired Ford since he was unsatisfied on the constant delays he was getting from John Ford. Zanuck decided to call Elia Kazan who was in New York at the time. Kazan was not too fond of the screenplay, but he felt he owed Zanuck a favor as it was Zanuck who commenced Kazan's career in film. Lena Horne was initially hired to play the role of Pinky but the studio decided to go with Jeanne Crain instead as they wanted there to be no way to tell that Pinky was of African American decent. This was never one of Kazan's most popular films. It is currently considered to be his one of his lightest films, even though it is not a comedy and like all his films it is a commentary on American life.

Pinky is an African-American woman with light skin. After graduating from a North American nursing school she returns to her grandmother who lives in the South. We learn that when Pinky was in the northern part of the U.S. she did not divulge information of her African American decent to any of her colleges. To make matters more difficult, Pinky has fallen in love with an doctor who knows nothing of her African-American nationality. Pinky desires to leave the south immediately to return to the north where she can be treated properly. Her grandmother convinces her to stay so Pinky can nurse a wealthy white woman, Mrs. Em. Pinky agrees in resentment and she slowly begins to believe she is headed down the same road her grandmother went down.

At first, tension is high between Pinky and Mrs. Em, but as time passes and Mrs. Em's state of health deteriorates they are met with a quiet but un-deniable respect and friendship. They soon realize how naive they were. Mrs. Em resented Pinky due to her black heritage and Pinky resented Mrs. Em because of how she treated 'Negroes'. This begins a very surprising and short-lived friendship that draws closure to racial barriers in Mrs. Em's life.

Pinky is a naive melodrama that does very little more than accept the fact that the world we live in is one of racial prejudice. Unlike the 1962 masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, Pinky has a very childish view on racism. The best example of this is a spoiler. This is not a particularly amazing ending or a particularly amazing film for that matter, but should you desire to find watch this film, do not read on. In the end when Pinky abandoned the doctor she loved and turns Mrs. Em's mansion that she inherited into a nursing home for young black woman it presents the impossible situation of racism to be stopped by one person. It seems as if everything is right in the small Southern town after Pinky's action come through. I admire Kazan for trying to comment on a cause that certainly needed commenting on, but I wish he could have done it better. As well, this was among the first films to condemn racism. It is hard to believe that just 34 years before Pinky the film The Birth of a Nation was considered a cinematic masterpiece. The Birth of a Nation promotes the K.K.K.

The following point was not a major issue for me, but I know it was a problem for several people who watched the film. Jeanne Crain is supposed to play an African-American woman. How did that happen?  Yes, I understand that she is supposed to be Caucasian but it is still difficult to expand our disbelief. We know Pinky's parents are dead, perhaps they inter-racially bred?  I have read reviews by average people who watched Pinky and could not get their head around the fact that Pinky was of African American heritage. Pinky would have worked more should Kazan had made an effort to at least find a resemblance between Pinky and her grandmother.

I might as well add that the acting in Pinky was quite good on behalf of Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore and Ethel Waters. However, I wish they had given us a little more time to witness the way in which the relationship between Pinky and Mrs. Em deepens.

Pinky is not a terrible film. However I wish Kazan could have approached the subject of social and racial justice in a more honest manner instead of being so falsely inspirational. Pinky is a sugarcoated and heartwarming film where it should have been raw, aggressive and truthful to the way the world is.

Directed by Elia Kazan
Starring: Jeanne Crain, Ethel Barrymore and Ethel Waters
6.5/10 (C+)

1. Panic in the Streets
2. Splendor in the Grass
3. Boomerang!
4. Pinky
5. The Arrangement

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