This is an important movie. Highly contraversial in its day, Pinky tells the story of a light-skinned African-American woman named Pinky (Jeann Craine) returning to her home in the Deep South, after living as a white woman for several years in New England. It’s important not only because it provides a small history lesson regarding racial oppression and Jim Crowe laws, but because it spoke against them while they were still happening. It’s not some bubblegum drama like The Help, made 50 years after the fact. These filmmakers dared to speak against it when it was racism was the norm.
The story itself, admittedly, takes some time to get going, but along the way, it establishes a backdrop of frustration. Why is Pinky being charged double the price on store goods just because the storekeeper discovered she has a black grandmother? Why do the cops suddenly decide to arrest her when they make the same discovery, when she was free to go only moments before? It’s almost no wonder she didn’t make any mention of her heritage when she moved away.
While the film is filled with character conflict, the major conlfict of the story doesn’t appear until the end of the second act, when the wealthy old woman Pinky has been carying for (Ethel Barrymore) passes away and leaves her practically her entire estate. Distant relatives decide to take legal (and slanderous) action to ensure they gain the property for themselves.
I honestly didn’t think I would enjoy this movie when I first began watching it. I’d never heard of most of the cast, and I questioned the production values. It also doesn’t help that it has a terrible cover and an odd title. I only watched it because legendary director Elia Kazan has a reputation for bringing out great performances from his actors. And, as such, each member of Pinky’s cast is highly memorable. Craine, nomianted for her an Academy Award for her performance, plays the role with strength and delicacy. She hates being back home, but mostly, because she hates that is serves as a reminder of who she is. Ethel Barrymore sort of plays her usual self. Actually, it’s the excact same role she would later play again in The Spiral Staircase–a bed-ridden woman who relies on a young woman with a sordid past for aid. But, since she’s one of the greatest actors who ever lived, it’s a small complaint.
The cinematography and scenery in this movie are exceptionally well executed. Though it would have been nice to see all the southern foliage in color, the black and white does add an element of dusty realism to this movie. Perhaps color would have been too distracting.
An underrated movie of the golden era of Hollywood, everyone should watch this movie. Analyze this movie. You’ll be glad you did.