Pinky (Jeanne Crain), a black woman who works as a nurse in Boston, finds she is able to "pass for white." Afraid her true heritage will be discovered, she leaves her white fiancÚ (William Lundigan) and returns home to Mis... more »sissippi. There, she helps her ailing grandmother (Ethel Waters) by caring for her employer (Ethel Barrymore), an imperious plantation owner. When she names Pinky heiress to her estate, the community rises in resentment, triggering a sensational court trial. Subject of landmark Supreme Court case in film censorship, this story about a mulatto woman's rights against prejudice, became itself, a battle for civil rights.« less
"This is a landmark film, as it tackled issues that were considered to be taboo at the time. Race hate, miscegenation, and passing for white are some of its themes. Unlike "Imitation of Life (1934), which in its own fashion dealt with the themes of passing for white and the unequal opportunities afforded blacks, this is not a sentimental tearjerker of a movie. Rather, there is an undercurrent of anger and righteousness that permeates it, and rightly so. It is a hard edged, no holds barred type of film. There is nothing sentimental about it.Controversial in its time, the film is about a young bi-racial woman known as "Pinky" (Jeanne Crain), sent up north by her southern granny (Ethel Waters), so that she could receive an education. While up North, she begins passing for white inadvertently, as that is how she is apparently perceived, and makes no move to correct that perception. She studies and works hard, becoming a nurse. She then meets white Dr. Thomas Adams (William Lundigan), and they fall head over heels in love. He has no idea, however, of her background and knows her as "Patricia" not "Pinky".Pinky, leaving him behind, returns home to the South one last time to confront her past and her personal demons. She ends up meeting bigotry head on, as down South where Pinky is known she is treated as blacks are treated, and does not like it one bit. It hardens her resolve all the more to return North and continue passing for white. She would like nothing better than to put as much distance as is possible between herself and her racial heritage. Helping out her grandmother, however, she ends up playing nurse to Miss Em (Ethel Barrymore), a crotchety, crusty, and ill eighty year old former plantation owner who has come down on hard times. When Miss Em dies, she wills her estate to Pinky, creating a controversy that rocks the town when the will is challenged by distant relatives, the Wooleys. They are outraged and claim that the "colored girl" used undue influence over the elderly Miss Em. This galvanizes Pinky to stand up for her rights, enduring a mockery of a trial. Moreover, when Dr. Adams comes looking for her, Pinky finds herself taking a position with respect to their relationship that is a revelation to herself. This is a film that at the time was highly controversial, due to its themes. It was a film that was certainly daring for its times. Why they cast a white woman for the part of a biracial character may seem puzzling to those of us in the twenty first century. I presume that this casting was mandated because there were love scenes between Pinky and her fiance, Dr. Adams, and this type of scene would have been forbidden in those days, if the actress cast for the part of Pinky were other than white. While a bi-racial woman was cast for the role of Peola, the woman who passed for white, in "Imitation of Life" in 1934, it was a safe bet to do so, as she had no love scenes with which to contend. Notwithstanding the casting of Jeanne Crain in the role of Pinky, this film was cutting edge stuff in 1949. Wonderful performances are given by the entire cast. Ethel Waters, Jeanne Crain, and Ethel Barrymore all received Academy Award nominations for their roles in this film, though none of them won. While Jeanne Crain's casting was a stretch for her as an actress, she did give it her all, letting the viewer sense Pinky's discomfort and angst over the racial divide. Ethel Waters is superb as the hard working, humble soul who did the best that she could for her beloved Pinky. As the imperious Miss Em, Ethel Barrymore was perfectly cast and gives a superlative performance, imbuing the character with a humanity that a lesser actress may not have. All in all, this is a movie that lovers of classic films should enjoy and one that should be in any serious movie lover's collection."
Old-Fashioned "Issues" Movie
Westley | Stuck in my head | 01/23/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Pinky" is one of those old-fashioned "issues" movies popular in the 1940s, such as "Gentlemen's Agreement," which tackled anti-semitism (of note, both of these films were directed by the great Elia Kazan). Unfortunately, these movies don't tend to age particularly well, and even the sympathetic characters often end up looking quite intolerant. However, we shouldn't dismiss these films summarily, as they obviously had an impact on their audience.
Jeanne Crain stars as the title character, a young black woman raised by her grandmother. Granny (Ethel Waters) is a poor, uneducated Southern washer-woman - the kind of good-hearted woman who cares for sick neighbors without compensation. When Pinky was a child, Granny saved every penny she could and sent Pinky up north to go to school and escape the harsh life of segregated Alabama. Pinky is so light-skinned, though, that she begins to "pass" as white; when she returns to Alabama, she has a white fiancé and has been living as a white nurse.
Pinky is shocked by her return to the South and suddenly being treated as a second-class citizen again. Further conflict occurs when Granny asks Pinky to tend to a sick white neighbor - Miss Em (Ethel Barrymore) who lives in a giant, slave-era colonial mansion. Pinky has memories of Miss Em treating her and the other black children poorly. Not surprisingly, Pinky refuses to tend to the racist Miss Em, but when Granny insists, an unlikely bond forms between Miss Em and Pinky. Unfortunately, the plot is awkwardly handled, and the final conflicts are resolved unrealistically.
To a modern audience, this movie certainly doesn't offer any answers regarding racial relations; however, the historical perspective is of interest and the acting is fairly good. A behind-the-scenes drama helps illustrate the status of blacks in 1949 Hollywood - Lena Horne, who was a major star, wanted to play "Pinky," but the producers were not willing to incur the controversy of having a love scene between a black actress and a white actor. Thus, the white actress Jeanne Crain received the role, as well as a later Oscar nomination. Overall, "Pinky" is a decent 1940s drama of added interest for its history. I enjoyed the film, despite its being outdated and somewhat creaky. "
Stephen Reginald | Pennsylvania | 11/28/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although this movie is somewhat dated, it has a message that is still important: you must be true to yourself. This was one of the first films to successfully deal with racism. So controversial was this film in 1949 it was banned in the south. The performances by all three women are very good. Jeanne Crain's scenes with Ethel Barrymore are especially moving. I'm surprised by the review from Amazon. You can't look at this film with the eyes of someone living in the 1990s. Pinky should be appreciated for addressing a subject that hadn't been addressed at all up until this film was made. From a technical level, this film is nicely put together. The music, the cinematography are all first rate. As film history, it's worth taking a look."
Landmark Hollywood drama
Byron Kolln | the corner where Broadway meets Hollywood | 03/07/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"PINKY was Jeanne Crain's greatest movie role, the story of a young African American woman whose light complexion causes friction in her small Southern community. Patricia Johnson, nicknamed `Pinky' for obvious reasons, returns home after several years of studying nursing up north, where she was able to pass and live as white without the day-to-day prejudices. Pinky's return is bittersweet when her mixed race is continually pointed out and used against her. After nursing the dying Miss Em (Ethel Barrymore), she inherits her stateley mansion, but the will is contested forcing Pinky to endure a humiliating trial, where she is effectively fighting for her rights as a human being. PINKY is a powerful study of human prejudice and greed, a remarkable film for it's time, and still stands up well today.
Jeanne Crain finally got the respect she deserved in Hollywood, with her portrayal of Pinky. One of Twentieth Century-Fox's main contract players, Crain had previously been cast in uncomplicated, one-note ingenue roles in films like "State Fair", "Cheaper By the Dozen" and "Leave Her to Heaven". Crain was helped no end by talented director Elia Kazan in shaping and developing the demanding and, at times, gritty role of Pinky. Playing Pinky's loving grandmother Dicey, Ethel Waters brings a quiet dignity and strength to every scene; and Ethel Barrymore adds a great deal of humour and heart to the misunderstood Em. All three ladies were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances, but this is much much more than a "women's picture". Nina Mae McKinney and William Lundigan (playing Pinky's white boyfriend) offer top supporting turns.
The new DVD from the Fox `Cinema Classics Collection' handsomely packages the film in a cardboard slipcase (featuring the original poster art), audio commentary with historian Kenneth Geist and an envelope containing 4 postcard-sized lobby card reproductions."
"Pinky" would not have been made without Jeanne Crain.
Jenny J.J.I. | That Lives in Carolinas | 09/19/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When you first look at the cover and the name of the main character you can already tell she is miscast for this role. Then again black people "passing for white" was not a new topic for Hollywood in 1949. It was part of the plot of "Imitation of Life" in 1934, but in that film, an actual black actress, Fredi Washington, played the role of the young woman who "passes" in the white world. In 1949, there were two films dealing with this issue: "Pinky" and "Lost Boundaries," and in both cases, the black person was played by a white actor.
"Pinky" stars Jeanne Crain as Pinky Johnson, a black woman who looks white, so much so that she when she studies nursing in New York, she easily enters the white world and becomes involved with a white doctor who wants to marry her. Needing time to think over her situation, she returns home, which is a shack where her grandmother (Ethel Waters) lives in a black section of their southern town. There she is reminded of the prejudice and cruelty she left. When her grandmother asks her to care for an elderly white woman (Ethel Barrymore), hostility between patient and nurse leads to an uneasy bond.
This is a great film all the way, magnificently directed by Elia Kazan and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, who loved taking on these controversial social issues. The acting is superb: Jeanne Crain gives the best performance of her career as a woman who comes to grips with her true identity. She is as dignified as she walks through the town, soft-spoken yet strong, refusing to come down to the level of those around her. Ethel Barrymore is the elderly terminally ill woman Pinky reluctantly agrees to care for, and she nearly steals the movie with a no-nonsense performance. She's a woman set in her ways and opinions, but she's fair person who can see the human soul. It's probably the best drawn character in the film. I read that Lena Horne was deemed not white-looking enough. I suggest that the same is true for the beautiful Dorothy Dandridge. There may have been black actresses who looked white enough to play this role, but would anyone have answered such a casting call? Most importantly, "Pinky" would not have been made without Jeanne Crain, because Zanuck wanted her to do it, and it's a film that deserved making. The other sticking point in the film is Pinky's fiancée, a white doctor. His easy acceptance of her as black - and the fact that she kept it from him - is a weakness in the script. This was done perhaps to highlight that he wanted to her to continue to pass for white, therefore making it clear that Pinky has to the make the decision, but the scenario does not seem believable.
You can predict the ending of "Pinky," and despite complaints that it's a typically neat Hollywood one; I found it vastly satisfying as I found the entire experience of watching this truly classic film, "Pinky." "