So if you know me, or have perused my blog for long enough, you understand that I am a Cinephile! Film Fanatic! Movie Maven…. I adore classic film and was literally raised on women centered black and white melodramas featuring High femme goddesses like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Claudette Colbert. So many great films, so little time. I am still working on all of their catalogs. I would later learn of Sidney Portier, Dorothy Dandridge, Freddie Washington, Paul Robeson, along side of so many other very talented Black performers in film and television.
But it wasn’t until I was a teenager, that I realized I wasn’t seeing many classic films starring people of color readily available to me. That if they were, the actors were often limited to stereotypes, or you just couldn’t find the films that featured our most famous Black classic film stars to watch! It took looking long and hard – before google was a verb in our collective vocabulary – to find these films. Remember Movie Guide books!? Thank gawdess for the library, interwebs and dare I say ebay….
This February aka Black History Month, in the face of #Oscarsowhite, I will be centering more of my CineStyle and Cinematic posts on some of my favorite films featuring folks of color. From Black independent film studios, and their productions to mainstream films, foreign films, indie cinema not to mention popular musicals like Carmen Jones featuring complex Black characters. I cannot wait to share more noteworthy films I adore.
This week’s film is Anna Lucasta, originally a play written about a Polish-American family. The first production of Anna Lucasta was by The American Negro Theater at the Mansfield Playhouse. Very little change was required of the play that debuted in 1944 to critical acclaim for its all Black cast. The production toured for three years, including London and among its touring company was a very young Sidney Portier. In 1949 the first movie adaption opened starring an all white cast, but the remake the 1958 film by Universal Pictures again features an all Black cast.
Anna Lucasta (Eartha Kitt) is still longing for her father’s love and approval, after being cast from the home as a teenage girl for coming of age and being attractive to boys, read – slut shaming. But there are inklings of an even uglier secret there. She falls into a life of prostitution and into the arms of street-wise sailor Danny Johnson (Sammy Davis Jr.). Anna’s conniving siblings send her father to bring Anna back home to barter her off to a visiting young house guest for his fortune. When Anna returns to the family home and is embraced by the well-intentioned suitor, her abusive father sets a hateful plan in motion to destroy Anna’s hopes for a future.
I watched Anna Lucasta for the first time just before seeing Breakfast At Tiffany’s for the first and only time. Which led to some basic comparisons of the two tales of two women, both existing through their desirability to men.
While Anna Lucasta is 100% drama Breakfast at Tiffany’s is 30% glamorous lifestyle tour, maybe 30% dramedy and 40% romance. I don’t have a problem with glamour or romance! But I was absolutely floored and disappointed when Andy Rooney appeared in yellow face as a caricature of a Japanese landlord to Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly. Horror of horrors. Breakfast at Tiffany’s was forever tarnished for me that very second.
Both films however share women leads who learn to begin to like themselves after being seen and possibly loved without judgment by another. Because it is a serious drama, and a stage adaptation, Anna Lucasta has more character development and context for Anna’s circumstance and desire to be loved. Unlike Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Butterfield 8 later in 1960, our heroine is quick to brush off her cynicism and become optimistic when given the chance.
Anna Lucasta is full of well-formed characters and a surprisingly bittersweet ending. The screenplay and original play were written by Phillip Yordan, the 1958 production was directed by Arnold Laven. Eartha Kitt as Anna Lucasta, Sammy Davis Jr. as Danny Johnson Frederick O’Neal as Frank, Rosetta LeNoire as Stella, Isabelle Cooley as Katie Lucasta, Henry Scott as Rudolph Slocum and Rex Ingram as Joe Lucasta.
Bonus! Sammy Davis Jr. and Eartha Kitt dated three years prior to making the film. ❤
Every member of the cast performs beautifully. Don’t worry you can put away your hankies. Even through the sad realizations, it still feels like there is hope at the end of this tunnel for Anna Lucasta. And because I love you, here is a link available to view the film as on Youtube! Yes, lovelies! You’re welcome.