Archive for January, 2014

My Classic Movie Pick: Wagon Master

I like Westerns.  I like the horses and the cowboys and the sheriffs who have to deal with the baddies and get them out of town.  I love seeing the landscapes in the outdoor scenes: those wide-open spaces and the outcroppings of distant mountains.  Whether the western was  filmed in black and white or in technicolor, it doesn’t matter much to me, I pretty much like most of this genre.   I am pretty well aware that the late  director John Ford was often tagged with the title of best westerns director and a couple weeks ago, TCM aired a western directed by him that I had never heard of.  Ford made a tight little film in 1950 with no big name stars assigned to it.    Wagon Master was the title bestowed on this film  and even more curious is that the main plot was about a group of Mormons trying to get to a certain river valley in which to establish their new community.

Made by Argosy Pictures( a studio created by John Ford and producer Merian C. Cooper, the man responsible for 1933’s King Kong) and released by RKO, Wagon Master employed  a lot of the actors and actresses that were known as “John Ford’s Stock Company”, meaning that these people were in a lot of Ford’s movies.  Usually John Wayne or Henry Fonda were the lead male actors in Ford’s films but not in Wagon Master.  The two main male leads were Ben Johnson playing Travis  and Harry Carey Jr. playing Sandy.  220px-WM_Poster Wagon Master

The movie opens with a wanted ad for the Clegg’s : a murdering Uncle  and his 4 murdering nephews.  This want ad is superimposed over a scene that dissolves into the Clegg brutes(James Arness, Charles Kemper, Hank Worden,Fred Libby, and Mickey Simpson) holding up a store and its employees.  As the gang leaves with the money, one of the clerks rushes behind the counter, grabs a gun, and shoots at the gang, wounding Uncle Shiloh Clegg(Kemper) in the shoulder.  The gang re-enters the store and Uncle Shiloh cracks his whip, telling the store clerk that he shouldn’t have done that.  He aims his gun and as the store clerk pleads for his life, the camera turns away as gun shots ring out.  The next scene we see  is the film’s opening credits rolling, with  conestaga wagons traveling west, through a  river, with a song by The Sons of the Pioneers ringing out.  There is a lot of music in this movie, even for a western, and The Sons of the Pioneers recorded the songs; Richard Hageman created the score and Stan Jones was the composer who wrote the lyrics and music for 4 of the songs in the movie.  A Mormon hymn is even sung at the end of the movie.

Next, the movie introduces the two male leads, Travis and Sandy.  They are young, ambitious, and are in the horse selling and trading business.  They’ve just arrived in a town to ply their trade and sell the sheriff a horse that will try and throw the rider if certain kind of whistling sound is whistled.  Of course, they don’t tell the sheriff this until after the sale is completed and Sandy whistles!  Soon, the two young men are approached by two Mormon men, Elders Wiggs and Perkins(Ward Bond and Russell Simpson.)  The Elders ask if the two young men know the area of the country their group will be traveling to the next day.  Travis replies to Elder Wiggs that they do know the area and a good way to get there.  Elder Wiggs asks them to consider being the Wagon Master for their group’s trip.  Travis thinks about it and turns the offer down.  Sandy thinks they ought to reconsider as he is immediately smitten with Elder Perkin’s daughter, Prudence(Kathleen O’Malley) who had accompanied her father and Elder Wiggs on their trip into town.   After a day in the town, and watching the Mormon travelers leave town and start heading in the wrong direction, Travis has a change of heart and he and Sandy ride to catch up with Elder Wiggs to let  him know that they’ll gladly lead the group to their destination, the San Juan River Valley in Utah.

Director Ford loved location shooting and much of the film was shot near Moab, Utah.  The scenery is gorgeous in the film, and a lot of credit should be given to Bert Glennon, the Director of Photography.  One scene that impressed me was when Travis accidentally rides near a group of Navajoes who give chase, and he and his horse have the ride of their lives in trying to get back to the wagon train ahead of the angry Navajoes.  Ben Johnson had been a ranch hand and a rodeo rider before getting into acting and knew how to handle a horse so  it’s really him  in that incredible chase sequence.

As Sandy plants his horse near Prudence’s wagon, Travis actually leads the group and soon they hear music playing in the distance with no town or house nearby.  The travelers soon find the wagon of a traveling medicine show and the troupe of  4 thirsty entertainers.  They ran out of water on their attempt to get to California.  With only the elixir to drink that they sell, they aren’t too sober.  One of the entertainers, a Miss Denver(Joanne Dru) is quite pretty and Travis is smitten with her immediately.  She faints off of the back of the wagon’s backboard and lucky for her and him, he manages to catch her.  Seeing the troupe’s dire plight, and having to convince Elder Perkins, Elder Wiggs announces that this troupe can travel with them until the trail for California emerges and they’ll share water and food with them.  This gives Travis a chance to size up Miss Denver, to “court” her and there is a sweet scene as the troupe breaks away to go out on the California trail and he follows them, catches up with Miss Denver, and explains that he has his eye on some land in Texas for a cattle ranch and he’s going to need someone to help him on the ranch with the cooking and cleaning and to help him fight against loneliness.  It’s a bittersweet scene because we can tell he is sincere, and Miss Denver knows that going on to California and staying with the medicine show isn’t any form of a good life to live.  She is touched and honored by Travis’s proposal of sorts, but then turns him down!

Of course, the baddies show up, The Clegg Gang, and they try to hide who they really are but Travis and Sandy recognize them from wanted posters.  They keep their guns close just in case as Elder Wiggs agrees to let these travelers join up with their group.  Uncle Shiloh Clegg and his nephews know there is a posse out looking for them and what better place to hide than with a bunch of Mormons?  Dr.  Hall(Alan Mowbray) from the medicine show is forced to help Shiloh’s shoulder wound and three of the nephews begin eyeing the ladies of the wagon train.  This of course puts Sandy and Travis on the alert.

There is the aforementioned run in with the Navajoes, of which legendary athlete Jim Thorpe plays a role, a Clegg gets punished for trying to get too close to a Navajo woman, and then there is a dangerous crossing for the wagons and the ultimate showdown with the Clegg’s.

A brisk western that ties things up nicely, I found Wagon Master an enjoyable gem from director John Ford.  Wagon Master, should also be noted, as the inspiration for the television show Wagon Train.  You can buy Wagon Master via Amazon.com for a very low price, at TCM’s shop in a special dvd with 3 other John Ford directed westerns, and it is available on a long list of Ford films on Netflix.   A kind soul put the entire movie on Youtube and you can watch it via that form.  I’ll close out my blog with some scenes from Wagon Master.

The Clegg Gang

The Clegg Gang

Opening shot, the wanted poster

Opening shot, the wanted poster

Sandy and Travis come to town.

Sandy and Travis come to town.

The sheriff saying he'll be glad when the Mormons leave town and the Clegg's are caught.

The sheriff saying he’ll be glad when the Mormons leave town and the Clegg’s are caught.

Elder Wiggs asking Travis to consider being their Wagon Master.

Elder Wiggs asking Travis to consider being their Wagon Master.

Jane Darnell as Sister Ledyard,sounding her horn to get the trip underway.

Jane Darnell as Sister Ledyard,sounding her horn to get the trip underway.

Travis proposing to Miss Denver

Travis proposing to Miss Denver

Travis being chased by the Navajoes.

Travis being chased by the Navajoes.

Encounter with the Navajoes

Encounter with the Navajoes

The Elderly Gent

I was at Rolla Federal Credit Union last week to do a bit of banking.  As I walked into the lobby and got into line to wait for the teller, I noticed  an elderly gentleman  with white hair peeking out from under his cowboy hat.  The elderly gent was sitting in a chair perched outside of an office doorway and I  noticed that the man was not heavy, he  had on glasses with dark rims, and  he carried a cane.  Shortly after I had gotten into line, a family came into the credit union: a husband and his wife and their son, who looked to be about 12 years of age.  Immediately the elderly gent rose  and greeted them as they came into the lobby.

I thought to myself, “Oh, he knows them.”   Lots of folks in Rolla know one another, such is the way in a smaller community, and I settled back to accidentally overhear their conversation due to the elderly gent talking loudly.   He launched into a loud, fast soliloquy.  The husband who had greeted him with a hello and had politely shook his hand managed to get a few comments and questions in, but I got the impression it was very important for the elderly gentl to say his piece and get it uttered for all to hear.  He related how he was originally from Texas,that  he had been  a country music singer and songwriter-then he gave his name, and of course, none of us had ever heard of him.  He said he sounded a lot like Tex Ritter when he sang.  I did know who Tex Ritter was and so did the husband;pretty sure his 12 year old son didn’t.  Then the elderly gent gave his salvation story, and then launched into a song  he had  written about Jesus.

I had to give the elderly gent credit-for looking to be in his late 70s or early 80s, he did have a strong singing voice.  No tremulous quaverings in his tone at all.  The husband, wife and 12 year old son politely stood at attention as the elderly gent serenaded them.  I grinned at the tellers who were trying not to giggle and not one of the credit union employees told him to stop singing or to go away.  By then it was my turn at the teller’s window and when I was done, the elderly gent had sat back down in the chair and was continuing to talk about his country music writing career and his faith in Jesus to the family of 3 whom  he had greeted when they had walked in.

Fast forward to last Friday afternoon, at Aldi, and as I was placing my purchases on the conveyer belt, I heard a familiar voice strongly singing a song he had written about Jesus.   Yes!  The elderly gent was serenading the Aldi shoppers as they were bagging their groceries!  This time his audience was also fellow senior citizens and they nicely applauded him when he was done.  Most of the cashiers were politely smiling but one did challenge the elderly gent a bit and asked him if he knew any songs by Willie Nelson.  To his credit, he ignored  the question and kept on singing and talking about his faith in Jesus.

I came away with several thoughts from my 2 encounters with this elderly gent.  He was not ashamed of his Lord, Jesus Christ.  He was .proud of his singing voice and past career.  He appeared to be in good health.  He was cheerful and wanting to talk to the public  in places where most people just focus on what they need to get done and want to be on their way.  How many times do I just focus on me, myself, and I when I am out and about shopping or running errands and don’t take time to aknowledge the people about me with a smile or a kind word?

Despite the giggles from the bank teller and the grocery employees, the elderly gent was not afraid of scorn or ridicule or rejection as he boldly praised his Lord and sang in these public establishments.  While I don’t plan on launching into song on my next forrays into the public places of Rolla, MO, I do want to take with me a spirit of friendliness and kindness towards my fellow citizens as we are out and about, shopping and running our errands.  Thanks for that lesson, Elderly Gent.

My Classic Movie Pick: The Spiral Staircase

I enjoy suspense movies and not the slash and gore films that seem so popular with the younger generations.  I like a suspense film that doesn’t show all of  the violence or the evildoer immediately,  but simply hints at the fact that something bad is going to happen or is happening.  Of course, the suspense films I like also have a  good triumphs over  evil ending and the main character, who has been in danger, will now be safe.The Spiral Staircase opening shot

The Spiral Staircase is my kind of suspense film.  In the beginning of the film, the audience is swept into a local hotel that also shows silent films.  It is in this audience that we meet heroine Helen(Dorothy McGuire) who is thoroughly caught up in the plot of the silent movie that she is watching. ( The silent film shown is D.W. Griffith’s The Sands of the Dee.)    As the movie plays for the audience, we are taken upstairs where  a young woman is looking out her window.  She then walks to  her closet and we notice that she has a noticable limp.  She takes a dress out of her closet and what we see, but she doesn’t see,  is that a man is hiding in her closet!  The camera zooms in on just his eye and we see his pov,  watching the young woman dress.   With her arms over her head and the dress about her, the camera again zooms in on her hands as they clutch the air and show signs that the young woman has been grabbed.  We hear her groans, and then the scene cuts to the hotel’s movie audience.  They are happily getting their coats and hats and preparing to leave when above their heads they hear a loud thud and the sound of  breaking glass.  The hotel owner rushes upstairs and with the help of another hotel guest(character actress  Ellen Corby, aka Grandma Walton from the 1970s tv show, The Walton’s) he goes to the young woman’s room and finds her strangled to death.

Helen enjoying the silent movie.

Helen enjoying the silent movie.

The killer hiding in the closet!

The killer hiding in the closet!

Victim #3, the poor crippled woman.

Victim #3, the poor crippled woman.

Something evil has recently begun in this quiet, small New England town near Boston.   We learn that two young women  have been murdered for no apparent reason other than the fact that they both had a physical defect.  One of the victims had a facial scar and the other was described as “simple-minded”.  Now we see that the third victim was crippled in her leg.  Soon we learn that Helen, a maid at wealthy Mrs. Warren’s (Ethel Barrymore) home, is a mute.  That can only mean one thing, Helen’s life is in danger!

We don’t know a lot about Helen’s previous life.  We do know that she used to be able to speak but when coming home from school one day as a youngster, she discovered that her home was on fire and her parents died in the fire, the local firefighters unable to save them.  This horrific event has caused Helen to not be able to speak.  Who she stayed with until she reached adulthood we don’t know and we also don’t know how she came to be in Mrs. Warren’s employ.  We do learn that she is in love with kind Dr. Parry(Kent Smith), the young, handsome, new doctor in town and he also loves Helen.  He wants her to go to Boston and be evaluated by a team of doctors who, he believes, will be able to help Helen get her voice back.  There is a scene in the film where Helen daydreams about dancing with Dr. Parry and then she is at the altar to marry him and it breaks her heart that she can’t utter the words, “I do” during the wedding ceremony, with all eyes upon her.

Dr. Parry telling Helen about the doctors in Boston who could help her.

Dr. Parry telling Helen about the doctors in Boston who could help her.

Helen, frustrated that she can't utter the words, "I do."

Helen, frustrated that she can’t utter the words, “I do.”

Since we, the audience, know the killer is a man, the movie’s script cleverly introduces 4 male characters who could possibly be the killer.  There is Professor Albert Warren(George Brent), his younger brother Steve(Gordon Oliver), Mr. Oates(Rhys Williams), and even Dr. Parry.

Professor Warren seems very preoccupied, dislikes his younger brother, Steve,  immensely, and keeps intruding whenever his brother is trying to grab and kiss the Professor’s secretary, the very beautiful Blanche(Rhonda Fleming.)   Turns out Blanche and the Professor also had a past relationship so it really sticks in his craw to see his former girlfriend in the arms of his younger brother!

The constable asking the Warren brothers where they were when the 3rd murder happened.

The constable asking the Warren brothers where they were when the 3rd murder happened.

Steven and Blanche

Steven and Blanche

Mr. Oates, the caretaker of the Warren mansion and grounds, is seen entering the house in a dark raincoat and hat, which we saw the killer wearing earlier when he was stalking  Helen on her way home to the mansion from the hotel.

The killer, following Helen to the mansion.

The killer, following Helen to the mansion.

Mr. Oates answering  the constable's questions.

Mr. Oates answering the constable’s questions.

Steven seems to be a lazy, layabout, with no job.  He’s just returned from a tour of Europe with nothing but time on his hands when he decides to embark on getting closer to Blanche.  Later in the film, he cruelly scoffs at Dr. Parry’s suggestion that doctors in Boston could help Helen speak.  Why does the thought of a person with a disability getting help make him so angry?

How the killer sees Helen and her lack of a voice.

How the killer sees Helen and her lack of a voice.

Even Dr. Parry, so kind to Helen, is he really who he seems to be or could he be  hiding  an evil side, ala Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

The women in the film are also just as interesting as the men.  Mrs. Warren, cold to her two stepsons,  reveals that their father thought them both weaklings and wastrels.  She is insistent to Helen that she must get out of the house that night, that something bad will happen to Helen if she doesn’t get away.  She is also a concealed carry believer!(This performance earned Barrymore a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.)   Mrs. Oates(Elsa Lanchester) is the cook with a penchant for sneaking a drink.  Her husband’s scoldings about her habit she ignores and unfortunately, that “little nip” while washing up the supper dishes will prove to be unhelpful to Helen later that night!  Then there is Blanche, the dutiful secretary, drawn to bad boy Steven, and a search in the basement for her suitcase will prove to be a deadly decision on her part!  Of course, hats are off to Dorothy McGuire’s portrayal of Helen.  She has to emote and convey so much with no words being uttered.  A truly remarkable performance.

Mrs. Warren has a gun and she knows how to use it!

Mrs. Warren has a gun and she knows how to use it!

Blanche knows who the killer is!

Blanche knows who the killer is!

Professor Warren reminding Helen to stay indoors and to go to him if she needs any help.

Professor Warren reminding Helen to stay indoors and to go to him if she needs any help.

Mrs. Warren urging Helen to get out of the house!

Mrs. Warren urging Helen to get out of the house!

Mrs. Oates waiting to sneak a bottle of brandy.

Mrs. Oates waiting to sneak a bottle of brandy.

The Spiral Staircase does an excellent job of showing the twists and turns of very complicated people and it leaves one guessing as to who the killer is until the last 10 minutes or so of the movie.  I also enjoyed the photography shot by Nicholas Musuraca.  Lots of lights and darks, shadows where a killer could be lurking in the old mansion, and a large mirror on the first landing of the grand staircase is used for quite a few interesting shots and views.  If I ever had a basement, it wouldn’t be as dark and dank and creepy as the one in this movie, I can tell you!!

One can find The Spiral Staircase at Amazon.com, but I warn you, it’s really pricey.  I was shocked at how high it’s price is!  It’s not available at TCM’s shop, only a remake which was done in 1975 starring Christopher Plummer, Jacqueline Bisset, and Sam Wannamaker.  It is available on Youtube, however, in its entirety.  A Spanish or Portugese(sorry, I cannot tell the difference between the two languages) fan of the film put it on Youtube, with subtitles for the Spanish or Portugese viewers.

The Spiral Staircase was made in 1946 by RKO Studios, produced by Dory Schary and directed by Robert Siodmak.  The screenplay was written by Mel Dinelli, adapted from the novel Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White.  I also discovered that the killer’s eye seen in the woman’s closet at the film’s beginning belonged to the director, Siodmak!

For a wonderful suspense film that I think younger filmmakers could learn a lesson or two from, seek out The Spiral Staircase!  The Spiral Staircase poster 3

It’s Going to be Okay

Today I have  a guest blogger:  Titus Benton.  Titus grew up around the Rolla area in neaby Salem, MO and  graduated from Salem High School.  He  then enrolled at St. Louis Christian College, graduated, and  has been serving in Ministry for these past 15 years.   He was one of two youth ministers at First Christian Church, our church when we lived  in Florissant and Titus was  our oldest’s small group bible study leader.   Titus did his best in  reassuring  the teens in our family that moving to Rolla wouldn’t be such a bad thing, that Rolla was a nice town, full of nice people, and he even knew of a church for us to visit, Greentree Christian.   Titus is now serving as  a youth minister with Current Christian Church in Katy, TX.

About a year ago, he and his wife decided to downsize, to sell their newer, larger home for a smaller one in order  to free up money in their budget and be able to give more funds to missions and missionary efforts that are happening around the world; missionary efforts that focus on the list from Matthew 25: 35-36: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”   I was honored when he asked to be a guest blogger on my blog in order to help get the  word out about The 25 Group, the not for profit missions supporting effort that he and his wife have begun in this new year.  If you are interested, you can follow this link to learn more about The 25 Group.   Now, on to Titus’s guest post!

Your list is probably different. Mine goes like this:

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, 1998…maybe 1997. Funny how you forget what year it was but never lose the sight of the family’s face when your group handed over the keys to their new house. Previously they lived in a pallet/cardboard shack. Their bathroom was a hole in the ground with some curtains for privacy. It was the first time I ever saw extreme poverty. I layered stucco until “stucco” was an expletive in my vocabulary. It was hard work, but I didn’t walk away from that construction site the same person. What I’d experienced was not okay.

Homes of the poor in Mexico City

Homes of the poor in Mexico City

Adelaide Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri, 1999. It was the first time I ever worked in the inner city. The kids were dirty. When gunfire rang out down the block, I cowered in fear while they kept playing. Old news to them. Their homes were larger than the kids in Mexico but their lives were no more hopeful. I pushed them on the swings and gave them piggy back rides until my muscles ached. Then I got in my car and drove back to the suburbs. What I’d experienced was not okay.

Inner City, Washington D.C., 2002. More piggy back rides. More dirty kids. VBS. DeWayne and DeJean. Government-funded housing. Welfare culture. Would the kids I was carrying on my back make it out alive? Would they land in jail like many of their fathers? Would they pedal dope or the Gospel? I got in a van and drove back to the midwest and didn’t have answers to any of my questions. Still don’t. Not okay.

Santiago, Dominican Republic, 2005. “The Hole” is not the name of a neighborhood I’d want to live in. Hundreds of families do–in the midst of garbage and sewage and animals that they compete with for food. “The Fly” was not a hole of garbage but a mountain of it–constantly smoldering. I thought of the Greek word used for “hell” in the New Testament. These people were living in hell. The daily dumped contents of nearby cities was their livelihood. I flew back to the states and bought a bacon cheeseburger at the Miami Airport. It mixed with the taste of smoke and dirt in my mouth and I couldn’t finish it. I pondered the things I’d seen and on a Sunday morning after days of resistance I sat on my couch and I cried. It was a loud cry. I don’t know if I was crying for the people I had met or for myself. My spoiled rotten self. Things were not okay.

Children in the Dominican Republic

Children in the Dominican Republic

Mexico City, Mexico, 2010. More poverty. More hopelessness. Kids dumped in garbage cans, rescued by missionaries and given a home. Plenty of kids not rescued–living on the streets begging for money. Human beings owned by other human beings, pimped out for profit. More dirt, more smoke, more stupid systems and obstacles and red tape and frustration. More not okay.

India, 2013. The one-legged boy tapping on our window, begging for change. The persecuted pastors being beaten for preaching. The girl found in a plastic bag on the side of the road. The children dancing and singing as a welcome to the white people. The stench of the train, the glassiness of the eyes, the stories of children being rescued from red light districts. I got on a jet and flew twenty-something hours back to America. I realized the hook that was constant in all my experiences was the same: Things Are Not Okay.

Children in India

Children in India

Your list may be different in specifics, but the conclusion our lists lead us to is universally the same. There are things in this world that are not okay. There are people bought and sold as commodities. There are children starving to death. There are women widowed because their husbands dared to preach the Gospel. There are places where water is laced with sewage but the people drink it anyway because its wet and they have nothing else. There are cardboard shacks and diseases and glassy eyes and gunshots and hopelessness.

There are also a growing number of people who think that is not okay.

 

I am one of them, and I suspect you are too. After returning from India and my wife from the Dominican Republic my wife and I started a nonprofit organization that will buy food and drill wells and provide shelter and help sick people and welcome strangers and do all the other stuff Jesus says to do in Matthew 25. It’s called The 25 Group.

Because what we do for the least of these we do for Him.

Because there’s plenty in this world that is not okay.

Because Jesus doesn’t think that stuff is okay, either. That’s why He told us to take care of those people–with food and water and the truth about who He is.

Join us as we seek to leverage the wealth of the American church–the bacon cheeseburgers and the jets and the cars and the houses and the coffees and the mobile devices and the concert tickets and the designer labels and the whatevers–to fund global Kingdom work. There’s a village in India with no school, church building, clean water well, or community gather spot. We’re funding a space that will serve all those needs. There’s a community in the Dominican Republic with an unfunded feeding center and there are in fact ten feeding centers in the country that are supplied vitamins year round–one meal a day, six days a week–by a ministry there. We’re going to fund the feeding center and the vitamins for all. The total cost is a little over $53,000 for both projects. We plan to visit each location someday, money in hand, look them in the eyes and say:

“It’s going to be okay.”

And it will be.

Titus also writes an excellent blog, located at TitusLive.com and one can also follow him in Twitter and Instagram  @ TitusLive

My Classic Movie Pick: Pinky, for the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon

In  December, as I was reading blogs that I enjoy, I found out about  an upcoming blogathon, The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon.  The three ladies hosting it, their goal was for bloggers to focus on the history of  films during the time frame from 1915 through 1950.  I signed up for the year 1949 and decided to focus  on one specific film, one film that dared to tackle a topic that Hollywood hadn’t really looked at in much depth.  Be sure to visit these awesome hostesses’  blogs  to read about the films that encompassed these specific years: Ruth at Silver Screenings, Aurora at Once Upon a Screen, and Fritzi at Movies Silently.

  In 1949  America’s economic prosperity was on the rise, television had started entering  American households, and a book that had been written in 1946 that looked at racial issues in the South caught the eye of producer Darryl F. Zanuck at Twentieth Century Fox.   The book was titled Quality and was  written by Mississippi native Cid Ricketts Sumner.  A screenplay was ordered which was  written by Philip Dunne, Dudley Nichols, and with collaborations by actress Jane White, who’s father, Walter White, was the Executive Secretary  of the NAACP.   The movie that evolved was Pinky.

The plot of Pinky is pretty straightforward.  A young black girl,Pinky,(Jeanne Crain) who could pass for white due to the lightness of her skin, is raised by her black Grandmother Dicey(Ethel Waters),  a laundress, in a sleepy, little Southern town.    Dicey saves enough money to send Pinky  north where she can attend a convent school.  Pinky graduates and then enrolls in a  3 year nurse training school in Boston.  She also  meets a young doctor, Tom Adams(William Lundigan) and they  fall in love.  Tom wants to marry Pinky, who has gone by the name Patricia while living in the north.   Pinky doesn’t know what to do so she hops the next train and travels back to her hometown.  Dicey  is overjoyed to see Pinky again and assumes that she’ll use her nursing training to help the poor in their community.  She is disappointed when Pinky firmly tells her that she is only home for a visit and that she’ll soon be going back to Boston.  Pinky is at a crossroads.  She knows she is disappointing Dicey and she knows she isn’t being honest with Tom, as she hasn’t revealed to him that she is really black.  She also hasn’t told Dicey about Tom.    Back in her hometown, she isn’t welcomed by the black community, who view her with distain for passing as white, despite the respect that they all have for her Grandmother.  Pinky needs guidance as to who she really is, how she wants to live her life, and then more  complications set in.

Dr. Tom Adams, who wants to marry Pinky, and doesn't know the truth about her background.

Dr. Tom Adams, who wants to marry Pinky, and doesn’t know the truth about her background.

Pinky back home with Dicey

Pinky back home with Dicey

Pinky Dicey is a laundress

Dicey gave money that was to be sent to Pinky’s school to local con artist Jake Waters(Frederick O’Neal) and he didn’t send all of the money as he was supposed to do.  Dicey has found out about this dishonesty and Pinky decides to confront Jake and get the money back.  He does give Pinky what he can, $15 of his wife’s money, and his wife, Rozelia(Nina Mae McKinney), comes home as Pinky is walking out with the money.  There is an altercation between the two women in the street and the local police happen to be in the area.  The two officers(one played by an uncredited Arthur Hunnicutt) treat Jake and Rozelia with disdain and disrespect and treat Pinky with utmost respect.  When Rozelia tells them that Pinky is “colored”, the officers immediately treat Pinky with disrespect and rudeness.  After a meeting with Judge Walker(Basil Ruysdael), Jake and Rozelia promise to not to get into trouble anymore, and they are dismissed.  Judge Walker keeps Pinky behind to inquire about her education, to tell her how much respect he has for her Grandmother, and to  remind  Pinky that she  needs to be a credit to her Grandmother.

Being treated rudely by the local police.

Being treated rudely by the local police and Rozelia laughing at her.

When Miss Em(Ethel Barrymore), the wealthiest woman in town,  has a heart attack, Dicey talks with Dr. Joe(Griff Barnett) and learns that a nurse will be needed to sit with Miss Em  until she has made a strong recovery.   Dicey insists Pinky do this job as a payment of a debt since Miss Em cared for Dicey the last time that  she was ill.  Pinky dislikes Miss Em, who was rude to her when she was a child and has always  treated her as an inferior person.  Pinky finally agrees to do the job for Dicey’s sake  and also tells  Dicey  that as soon as the nursing job is over she’ll be  traveling back  to Boston.    Miss Em has a way with challenging  Pinky’s doubts about herself and through a Will, and the challenge of its legality by an odious relative of Miss Em’s(Evelyn Varden), Pinky has to fight for her rights in a courtroom, learns more truths about  Tom and herself, and at the end of the movie, makes her decision of what to do with her life that is true to herself and  true to her own identity.

Ethel Barrymore as Miss Em

Ethel Barrymore as Miss Em

Pinky and Miss Em

Pinky and Miss Em

Evelyn Varden playing an evil lady intent on stealing property from Pinky

Evelyn Varden playing an evil lady intent on stealing property from Pinky

Pinky giving Tom her final answer

Pinky giving Tom her final answer

John Ford was the original director for Pinky, but he didn’t get on with the cast, he didn’t grasp the storyline as producer Zanuck envisioned it, and after watching the rushes and being disappointed with them, Zanuck fired Ford after one week on the job.  Elia Kazan had made a name for himself by directing dramas on Broadway, and for directing a  Best Picture Oscar for Gentlemen’s Agreement and for winning Best Director for that film too, all of which helped  Twentieth Century Fox’s coffers.  Zanuck hired Kazan to take over the directing for Pinky.  Kazan has stated how he found a demoralized cast, unsure of their acting abilities after one week of working with John Ford.  Kazan came in and decided to do many read throughs of the script, to get the cast more at ease with the story and with their acting abilities.  Kazan wanted to travel to the South for the filming but was told no by Zanuck.  With the talent of Joe MacDonald, Director of Photography and Atillio Gabani operating the camera , the movie  really looks like it was filmed in a southern town and not a Hollywood backlot and soundstage.

 Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge both  wanted to play the lead role of Pinky, but due to Hollywood’s  censure board that stated there couldn’t be any interracial kissing scenes, the part of Pinky went to actress Jeanne Crain.  Ethel Waters was cast as Grandma Dicey, Ethel Barrymore was cast as Miss Em, and William Lundigan was cast as Dr. Tom.  The film impacted critics and audiences alike.  Crain was a nominee for Best Actress for the Academy Awards in 1950, and her co-stars, Waters and Barrymore, were both nominated for Best Supporting Actresses.

Why did I choose this movie for my pick? Up until 1949, racial issues in movies weren’t explored.  With the end of WWII, President Truman appointed advisors to evaluate desegregating the US military and from my readings on that topic and others about race in America, the late 1940s and early 1950s would prove to have watershed moments and issues that would ultimately lead to the end of Jim Crow laws and the theory  that “Seperate but Equal” was a fine solution to racial issues in the US.

When I first saw Pinky, I was a college student and I stumbled upon it by accident one day, perusing the cable channels.  The unusual topic matter, being made in the 1949, held my attention.  What was this lady going to do?  Marry the man who says he loves her?  Turn her back on her Grandmother that raised her?  Turn her back on her community who clearly could use her talents and skill set at training nurses in her town?  Accept her fiance’s idea of both of them moving to Denver and a new life where no one would have to know of her background?  The movie posed a lot of questions that wouldn’t show the answers until the final scene.  I felt sorry for Pinky as I watched the movie, and grew irritated and angry as to how she was treated by some of the movie’s characters.  Pinky was a startling movie for 1949 and the majority of the critics praised it and audiences flocked to see it; it wasn’t shunned at all in Southern cities and towns across the US as some at Twentieth Century Fox feared would happen.

To see Pinky, it has been put on dvd and is available at Amazon.com, it is available to purchase from Turner Classic Movies, and some kind soul has put the entire movie on Youtube!  With a lilting, moving score by Alfred Newman, excellent directing by Elia Kazan, and an excellent cast, please seek out Pinky!  A daring movie for 1949.  Pinky poster 1