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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

SAPPHIRE (1959)

Few things date faster than films with progressive social agendas. A decade or two on, they look patronizing, simplistic and smothered with uplift. So all credit to this sharply-etched British police procedural about the murder investigation of a light-skinned black girl who was ‘passing’ as white. Director Basil Dearden sticks to the pace of his two investigators, methodical Nigel Patrick and instinctive Michael Craig, who pretty much steals the pic spouting the commonplace, off-hand racial clich├ęs of the day as if they were truisms for the ages, yet thinks he hasn’t a racist bone in his body. But what really sets this one apart, is all the fine location work from Harry Waxman whose EastmanColor lensing of a very non-touristy London has been miraculously revived, especially for those who only know it from old, faded prints.

DOUBLE-BILL: 1959 was also the year of Douglas Sirk’s magnificent version of IMITATION OF LIFE, from Fannie Hurst’s classic ‘passing-for-white’ meller, first filmed (wonderfully) in 1934.

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