Elia Kazan

BY Travis Mackenzie HooverPublished Dec 1, 2005

Pinky stands as an example of a long-lost genre: the "passing" melodrama, in which a white-looking black woman passes for white. Unfortunately for anyone in the audience who's black, the titular "passer" is the conspicuously Caucasian Jeanne Crain. For most, this will torpedo the whole thing from the beginning, as any scenes with Pinky's grandmother, Ethel Waters, look hopelessly, glaringly fake, though if you can stomach the period attitudes this is a pretty decently-mounted sudser in the guise of a problem picture. In terms of ethnic pride, nothing that goes on makes sense: Pinky's grandmother is absurdly devoted to the slavish employ of a smug white woman (Ethel Barrymore), and when our trained nurse protagonist is pressed into ministering to the ailing matron, the latter woman barks insults that are meant to spur the former to self-reliance. And once Barrymore dies and bequeaths our heroine her property, the stage is set for the most unlikely climax in the history of courtroom drama. But isn't that illogical quality what makes melodrama fun? Elia Kazan redeems himself for his previous questionable problem picture, Gentleman's Agreement; here he's more up to the task of heightening the emotions and ratcheting up the tension. Some good supporting performances, particularly from the long-suffering Waters and Frederick O'Neal as a shifty debtor, fill in the blanks of some sketchy characters, and you're sure to thrill to every unlikely twist and turn, if you can get around its inexcusable sops to the white audience. Scholar Kenneth Geist, alas, isn't that kind of person, and his damning commentary is full of shocking information about the jerrybuilt politics and backstage wheeling-dealing. It's an essay in Hollywood hypocrisy worth the price of the disc alone. (Fox)

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