Aug 23, 2016

Jeanne Crain, Pinky

as PATRICIA "PINKY" JOHNSON

From what I've gathered, it doesn't seem as though Jeanne Crain's work in Pinky is well-liked by Oscar enthusiasts such as myself. At face value, the film welcomes loads of criticism for its controversial casting of a very white Crain as a black woman who can "pass" as white. However, I found Pinky to be quite a compelling film, if not a little outmoded and awkward. Crain, as I found out, didn't end up being as I've been led on to believe.

Now see here: I'm not exactly saying Crain was great. She's not. But I didn't think she was as awful as she's been made out to be. Sure, it's very bizarre and flat out cringeworthy to have to watch Crain strut around bemoaning about race and the plight of being a Colored Woman. She doesn't come across as a very skilled actress - I found that she has the same downtrodden, quasi-bored expression that she coasts on throughout the entire film, when a more talented actress could really have sunk her teeth into it (though, let's be fair - I'm sure it was never going to be in Crain's capacity to really be able to tap into the emotions of a black woman facing a lifetime's worth of self hate in addition to a barrage of adversity and discrimination). But it is what it is. A modern perspective will never be able to accept the inappropriate casting here, but the part itself is juicy and multifaceted enough such that it's hard to disparage Crain for trying to keep up, even if she figuratively never really catches up.

What I'm trying to say is that she's passable at best in a part that has the goods to have been really killer. I think Elia Kazan summarized it best: "I did my best with her but she didn't have any fire. The only good thing about her face was that it went so far in the direction of no temperament that you felt Pinky was floating through all of her experiences without reacting to them, which is part of what 'passing' is." Which is to say, Crain lacks the thespian skills (the fire, the tenacity, the raw emotions) to execute well, but her execution isn't bad...it's just plain and ordinary. So yeah, Crain is stiff (even when she's engaged in arguments), she's blank, and she kind of floats around sternly yet beautifully under the guise of "drama", and hits those emotional touch points as necessary. The only analogy I can come up with here to describe my feelings is that you've got a C-student and you're expecting her to flunk the big test. She instead scores that C, and you walk away...surprised, though not exactly impressed.


7 comments:

  1. I should rewatch the movie but I agree she's not truly terrible, just very weak. What did you think of the supporting ladies?

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    1. I thought Ethel Waters was really great! Would probably be my win if Mercedes McCambridge wasn't in the mix.

      As for Ethel Barrymore...meh. Nothing special really.

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  3. I did not care for this movie or Crain's performance. Aside from the fact that her being the grand-daughter of Ethel Waters is preposterous, I found her performance to be bland and humorless. There's no life to this person, in spite of what she's supposedly been through. The conceit of this film was dicey to begin with and the casting of Crain only compounded the problem.

    Add to that another of Barrymore's 'crusty old biddy' performances and this becomes a film that doesn't bear re-watching.

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    1. I thought I'd dislike the film a lot more than I did. It wasn't bad in my opinion...I'd watch it again. One of those "if only" situations for me...just wish they had a better lead actress

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  4. On the plus side, you are almost done with the 1940s! Just one more performance! I hope you love her as much as I do!

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