Originally a Broadway hit play during the Forties, Philip Yordan's all-black play was ethnically transposed to a WASP environment for the 1949 Columbia film, with Paulette Goddard and John Ireland assuming the roles of bad-girl Anna Lucasta and bad-boy Danny Johnson, respectively. By 1958, Yordan's career as a successful screenwriter was pretty solid (if not controversial, in terms of actual script authorship), and the success of several high-profile, all-black films - Otto Preminger's "Carmen Jones" being a biggie - perhaps motivated Yordan to blow the dust off his hit property, and return the seamy tale back to its Chicago roots, with an all-black cast.
Therein lies the odd novelty of Yordan's film: in an era when most African Americans were seen as menial laborers, musicians, athletes, or doomed icons of their race, the characters in "Anna Lucasta" come from mixed social strata, including an extended middle-class family, and a university graduate, with a nascent academic career. Of course there has to be a dirty little secret - namely Anna's dark past as woman of horizontal experience, and some vague allusions to unfatherly love (hey, it's there) - in order for the story to have broader commercial appeal, but Yordan deserves some credit for offering a variety of character roles most studios wouldn't consider without some prominent musical elements twisted into the plot.
MGM's transfer is made from a really nice print, showing off Lucien Ballard's modestly-framed widescreen cinematography. The original mono mix is well-balanced, and Elmer Bernstein's uneven score - adopting a forced comical tone when Yordan's writing wobbles between contrasting moods - otherwise adds an appropriate mix of sleazy jazz, and melancholy. (The title song, crooned by Sammy Davis, Jr. over the main titles, does have some distortion, though.)
Kitt and Davis are the real standouts in the film, and while the included trailer offers some performance highlights (using incomplete sound elements, and portions of Anna's 'street-burning' binge), there's an odd lack of formal credits on the trailer.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan
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