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Making a picture on prejudice is a very difficult procedure. And when a love story is mixed into the formula, the possible blunders are multiplied manifold. "Pinky" does not quite escape all of these mistakes and thus misses being a great picture.
The problem posed is that of a colored girl who is able to pass for white. she has been trained as a nurse in the north, and has fallen in love with a white doctor. When she returns to the South to escape the obvious complications of her attachment, she is bequeathed the estate of an old lady whom she nurses and later wins a court fight to gain possession of it. Her choice is between working among her people in the south, or going off with the doctor, who has pursued her, to start life anew.
The question is a genuine one; its solution is credible. But along the way, the credibility is gradually eased out, and the final dramatic moment does not ring true. The courtroom scene in which Pinky bests the representative of intolerance is a bit too close to a sudden triumph of righteousness for comfort. Pinky's meetings with the doctor are probably the most weakening factors in the plot; especially in the final encounter, the conflict between love and principle is just too much for the actors to carry off.
Jeanne Crain, in her first serious role as Pinky, acts with the required amount of uneasiness but cannot quite convey the emotional torment which is supposed to be shaking her personality to pieces. she comes off well in the more active places, but meditation finds her a little too demure.
William Lundigan as the ardent Northern doctor looks heroic, but his script and stage directions unfortunately give him little opportunity to displayed acting ability. Ethel Waters, portraying Pinky's grandmother, surmounts the Aunt Media-type casting to achieve some fine moments.
For Ethel Barrymore, in the part of the dying old aristocrat, there can be nothing but praise. The most striking "character" in the movie, her quick wit and quicker tongue provide some of the sharpest and best-aimed assaults the film can offer. Her advice to Pinky, "Be yourself," is the key to understanding the moral and psychological conflict which are presented.
"Pinky" succeeds in portraying the subtleties that some other films on prejudice lacked. The tone of paternalism used by the whites to negroes, though sometimes almost imperceptible, carries the desired tension through the less exciting portions. It is this gentle touch, rather than the instances of overt and violent discrimination use to hammer home the meaning of prejudice to Pinky and the audience, that places the picture on a high artistic level.
Hollywood, having recently discovered the hitherto untapped field of racial and religious prejudice, insensately to gather all the fur its as quickly as possible. "Pinky" is beyond the reach of the amateurism which dominated the earliest production; it may have just escaped an era of subtle melodrama-prejudice which is to come.
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