After producing MARCH OF TIME newsreels and docu-dramas ‘made on the actual locations’ for 20th/Fox (i.e. BOOMERANG/’47), Louis De Rochemont kept to his news-worthy ways with this fact-inspired low-budget indie. Newlyweds Mel Ferrer & Beatrice Pearson are light-skinned, Caucasian-featured Negroes ‘passing for White’ in a small New England town after he’s been consistently rejected for hospital internships down South as too White, and deemed equally unacceptable for practice up North as a Black man. And so, for 20 years, they’ve fit into their tidy community, but as counterfeit Whites. And so smoothly, they never found the right moment to tell anyone the truth, not even their own two kids. But the situation starts to crack when their son brings a Black friend home from college for the wknd, then completely crumbles when Ferrer volunteers for Naval service as a WWII ship’s doctor. An unusual subject for the time*, and neatly served by helmer Alfred Werker shooting on real locations and even using real interiors. (Note the variable sound quality.) The budget hampers any chance for period flavor in the first half, but the film is effective on its limited terms. Of course, the cheat here is that the town ends up welcoming ‘Black Folk’ who look just like every other White person on the block. But don’t knock a rare chance to see Canada Lee, stealing a scene as a NYC cop; and there’s an endearing debut from Carleton Carpenter, soon to be seen wooing a young Debbie Reynolds @ M-G-M, delightful here as the musically unprejudiced beau of Ferrer’s daughter.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Something must have been in the air in 1949 with both this film and the glossy commercial hit PINKY tackling similar race issues. PINKY was made at De Rochemont’s old studio, but with studio chief Darryl Zanuck personally producing it as a prestige item with Elia Kazan helming after John Ford bailed.