DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Pinky (Cinema Classics Collection)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Osadciw, Jan 15, 2006.

  1. Michael Osadciw

    Michael Osadciw Screenwriter

    Jun 24, 2003
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    Real Name:
    Michael Osadciw


    Studio: 20th Century Fox
    Film Year: 1949
    Film Length: 102 minutes
    Genre: Drama

    Aspect Ratio:[*] 1.33:1

    Colour/B&W: B&W

    Audio:[*] English [​IMG] [​IMG] 2.0 mono
    [*]English [​IMG] [​IMG] 2.0 stereo

    Subtitles: English & Spanish
    Film Rating: Not Rated

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Release Date: January 10, 2006.

    Film Rating: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Starring: Jeanne Crain (Patricia “Pinky” Johnson), Ethel Barrymore (Miss Em), Ethel Waters (Granny/Aunt Dicey), William Lundigan (Dr. Thomas Adams), Basil Ruysdael (Judge Walker), Frederick O’Neal (Jake Walters)

    Directed by: Elia Kazan

    The love story of the girl who passed for white!

    What a strange day it has been for me. I received a double-dose of films with racism and it left me in one of those somewhat depressed moods that make me think “how can I make the world a better place…?” We can’t be blind to it, but racism against all cultures is apparent everyday but the amount of it varies in communities. Thankfully, segregation isn’t as bad today as it was in the first half of the 20th Century and there is still a lot of work to be done to end it. But thanks to the wonderful medium of film, it can serve as a reminder of the past and present values and actions of society.

    When deciding what film to watch, I picked up Pinky to complete my review of this wave of Fox’s new Cinema Classics Collection as part of the celebration of Black History Month. I didn’t know what to expect of the film, nor did I know what it was about. I found that the film differed substantially from the other two titles released (Stormy Weather & Island in the Sun) both in terms of genre, character, and portrayal of society. There are many more things too and I’ll talk about throughout the review, but let’s just say that after I sat through Pinky, the film left me in awe.

    The story of Pinky begins with our title character arriving back to the swamps in the southern U.S. She looks white (for the sake of using the terms in this film) but she is considered ‘coloured’ because her grandmother, the woman who raised her, is black. The swamps are home for Pinky but she was sent away by her Granny to the north so she could attend school to be a graduate nurse. To her shame, Pinky was “Patricia Johnson” in the north and has denied her black heritage while she was away and has fallen in love with a charming white doctor who doesn’t know of her secret. In a time when blacks and decedents of them were abused and scolded by whites, it was no wonder Pinky was hiding it.

    Pinky has forgotten what it was like to live in the south. Granny can’t read so she had a local black man named Jake send money to support Pinky while she was away. The money was never delivered; and while confronting Jake about the money, his wife creates such a commotion it attracts the attention of the police. These cracker cops immediately intimidate Jake and his wife but not Pinky because she looks white. It’s not until Jake’s wife reveals that she’s coloured and then the cops’ attitudes change. The three of them are abused and sent to the police station and then are released on warning.

    Pinky also has a second run-in with two drunken males during an evening walk. She barely escapes being raped and decides she has had enough of the south. In her torn dress and battered spirit, Pinky packs her bags so she can go back to the north and be treated like a human being again. But her packing is interrupted when Granny tells her that the rich white woman, Miss Em, who lives in the large run-down plantation house, is sick and needs to be nursed. Granny has had a good relationship with her but Pinky has not. Even though she personally refuses to assist Miss Em, she stays a few days to appease her Granny.

    Miss Em is a straight-up no-nonsense stubborn woman who is old school and is never afraid to speak her mind. Pinky is still appalled at the lack of trust Miss Em still exhibits towards her because she is coloured, but soon enough their relationship improves. Miss Em likes Pinky because their personalities are identical in terms of speaking their minds and being straight-up with the issues. At a time when she’s on her death bed, she prefers the company of Pinky to that of her relatives who seem to visit so they can be ready to inherit all of Miss Em’s assets. In fact, it prompts Miss Em to make out her will, but as we later see, it becomes the subject of conflict and controversy in the community.

    This is one of Darryl F. Zanuck’s controversial social films in the ‘40s. Pinky is unflattering to the thoughts of that era showing how blacks were treated lowly in society. I’m not sure whether or not Zanuck condoned or condemned that thought though...was he a social liberator? Regardless, the injustice Pinky receives is exposed to both her boyfriend as well as the nation. As a coloured woman, she knows she’ll loose the fight for justice, and when she looses, she wants the whole world to see it. She has nothing to loose anyways.

    This is one powerful film that gripped me during many moments. The camera closely focuses on Jeanne Crain’s face as we feel her turmoil and we know her mind is elsewhere in the north and thinking of her love there. We feel for her wanting to correct what is wrong, but the struggle she feels when the whole town is against her. White audiences of the day would think why anyone would act so horribly to such a beautiful girl; the fact is, white people set their standards and treated all others as inferiors and unequal. Hence, it gives the white audience a relatively small taste of how it feels to be on the other side.

    It also helps that all actors and actresses involved did a fabulous job with their roles. Crain is unmistakeably flawless in her delivering of Pinky, O’Neil did a fantastic job as the snake (but likable) character Jake. Barrymore was perfect as the stubborn old-school Miss Em. This newly remastered title highlights Joe MacDonald’s black and white photography and Alfred Newman’s score. All of this equals one fantastic DVD.

    [​IMG]VIDEO QUALITY [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    For the first 15 minutes of this film I was disappointed with the video quality. The compression is terrible. Details are smeared because of excessive compression drag. As the camera pans across the screen objects move but the details within them are delayed and catch up momentarily. This is terrible and I see this level of low quality on DVDs that are from no-name companies releasing poor product. What happened here, especially since this title was done at Deluxe? It improves later, with most of the small compression artefacts reduced in level but still not at the quality seen on titles that I’ve seen in the Film Noir collection.

    The source is also problematic. It wiggles a lot on the screen, moving left-right, up-down, especially during the opening credits (that is surrounded by what looks like a newly created grey-border around all four sides of the picture – on my screen it was about 3-4 inches). The film keeps doing this throughout, but less so at different times. The film is also ridden with artefacts. How much this title was cleaned up I don’t know, but it is probably one of the noisiest titles I’ve seen in any of Fox’s remastered classic titles.

    Viewed at 5400K, the image is a little warmer looking than Stormy Weather. Black levels are deep and not all that detailed. The remaining greys look good. The aspect ratio is 1.33:1.

    [​IMG]AUDIO QUALITY [​IMG] [​IMG] / [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    The audio is variable on this title. It is slightly lower in level then Stormy Weather but at 57.21 it gets loud. Strangely, it slowly gets quiet again only to later burst into loudness. Backgound hiss is all over the map; sometimes it is quiet and then in other scenes it sounds like a waterfall in the background. Dialogue and sound effects are intelligible but can be distorted sounding. The original mono soundtrack is available in Dolby Digital 2.0 and surprisingly the stereo soundtrack is acceptable. It sounds identical to the mono soundtrack in terms of sound placement because all sounds image in the center of the soundfield (no distinct left-right effects) and dialogue and sounds aren’t spread all over the place like all other fake stereo soundtracks I’ve heard on Fox releases. This stereo option seems to have a slight bit of processing done to the mono soundtrack to give the impression of space, especially if Pro-Logic decoded. It’s good and doesn’t sound too artificial when comparing it to the mono soundtrack, so in this case I’ll say both audio options are fine.


    This title comes with an optional commentary by film critic and biographer Kenneth Geist who has worked with Fox for commentaries on other classic films. This DVD is also packaged in a deluxe slip-case modeled after the original UK quad poster and also comes with lobby cards.


    While the film may seem dated to some, the subject of racism is still being fought every day. We all can be thankful that it isn’t taken to the same level today as it was when this film was made. I also watched Crash (another film about racism) the same day I watched Pinky and it proves how films can be powerful at exposing the attitudes of some people in society. I’d like to say that I’m not used to watching these kinds of movies…but I’m glad that I did. With good story telling, social issues can be debated and improved upon. With racism, what is there to debate, really?? I really don’t know what else to say about it without going on some tangent…Pinky is a mild-mannered downbeat film showing the struggle Pinky has when living in southern society. With no one on her side while on her personal crusade to expose injustice, it’s easy to see how she becomes a target of bigotry.

    Michael Osadciw
    January 15, 2006.
  2. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator

    Oct 9, 2001
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    Rensselaer, NY
    Michael: Very nice review of a film I previously knew nothing about. Sounds very interesting and worth a look.
  3. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

    Apr 15, 2002
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    Never seen this before, and because it's Kazan directing, it's a done deal
  4. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

    Jun 15, 2001
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    Good review! This has been a favorite of mine for many years. (First having taped it Off-the-Air, then owning the VHS pre-recorded tape) I also was disappointed in the source material used & the transfer. I hope this is not an indication of how FOX is going to treat films in this series. I listened to parts of the commentary while watching the DVD last night. An "interesting" commentary I must say, particularly the comments about Crain.

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