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When wild child Anna Lucasta (Kitt) is banished from the family home by her self-righteous father, she falls into a life of prostitution and into the arms of street-wise sailor Danny Johnson (Davis). But after Anna shocks them all by finally finding true love with a well-heeled young suitor, her unforgiving father sets a vengeful plan in motion to remind his daughter of her sordid past and destroy her future forever! Written by
'Anna Lucasta' was originally a stage play with a white cast, filmed in 1949. A few years on from its debut, the play's original author (Philip Yordan) re-staged it with all the roles played by African-Americans. This was considered something of a gimmick at the time, but the gimmick was still fresh a bit later when Pearl Bailey played the Jewish matchmaker Dolly Levi in an all-black Broadway production of 'Hello, Dolly!' And before 'Anna Lucasta', there was Bizet's opera reworked with African-American characters as 'Carmen Jones'.
I'm hugely a fan of Sammy Davis Jnr, who plays the male lead in this all-black remake, so I was curious to know why his ghost-written autobiography 'Yes I Can' made almost no mention of 'Anna Lucasta'. Now I know. The film is not very good. As young sailor Danny Johnson, on leave and looking for some lovin', Davis is physically well-cast but gives a poor performance. He would later prove himself a dramatic actor of considerable subtlety, but at this point in his career Davis was primarily a musical performer, and in 'Anna Lucasta' he seems desperate for an excuse to burst into song or dance. With no music cues to fall back on, Davis overacts shamelessly here.
The title role is played by Eartha Kitt, whom I've always found painful to watch. She really overdoes the feline routine. It was acceptable when she played Catwoman (literally a comic-book character) or in 'Shinbone Alley', in which Kitt actually played an alley cat, but 'Anna Lucasta' is a serious drama requiring some subtlety, and the words 'Eartha Kitt' and 'subtle' don't fit into the same sentence. I got a big laugh a few years ago, when Eartha Kitt was exposed as a pretentious know-nothing. In 1998, she made a public statement that she was a lifelong devotee of astrology: she had scrupulously followed her horoscope, and it had guided her through her successful career. Shortly after she made this statement, someone located Eartha Kitt's birth certificate ... and it turned out that, all these years, she'd been following the horoscope for the wrong birth date!
Anna Lucasta is a small-town girl whose father Joe is outraged at her moral lapses, so he orders her out of his house. Then he hypocritically tries to reconcile with her for selfish reasons, hoping to marry her off to Rudolph. In the important role of pious Rudolph, actor Henry Scott is too stolid and stodgy. If he had been a bit more energetic, and Sammy Davis had been a bit *less* energetic, this would have been a better film.
The primary blame for this film's flaws should go to author Philip Yordan, who adapted his own script for the screen. 'Anna Lucasta' comes off like a poor imitation of several Eugene O'Neill plays, specifically 'Anna Christie' ... which even has a similar name. Changing the characters into Negroes (to use the 1959 terminology) gave roles to some black actors but was not otherwise a good idea. 'Anna Lucasta' takes place in a sleazy semi-noir universe, in which a sexually attractive woman can only be a slut or an outright whore. By populating that universe with African-Americans, and excluding any positive role models -- there's not one genuinely sympathetic character in this entire piece -- Yordan has (perhaps unintentionally) implied that humanity's negative traits are typified by black people.
I'll rate this movie 3 out of 10. Much as I dislike Eartha Kitt, she has done better work elsewhere. So has Sammy Davis Jnr.
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