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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
At the core of Anna Lucasta is a creaky plot that isn't seen often today -- the decent man who falls in love with the irresistible prostitute (see also The World of Susie Wong, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Owl and the Pussycat, etc.). However, instead of focusing on the man's dilemma, Anna Lucasta focuses on the prostitute's family and friends. The screenplay is by a distinguished playwright and screenwriter, Philip Yordan, who based it on his own Broadway play, so it does have its moments -- an occasional good line, striking monologue, or clever exchange of dialogue. But it remains stagy, and the director's infrequent attempts to "open up" the play with cinematic devices don't work well.
However, the movie is valuable because it preserves performances by prominent black stage actors who for the most part rarely appeared on screen, certainly not in major, non-stereotypical roles. Nearly every actor and actress in the film is given a moment to shine, and they all acquit themselves well, with the possible exception of the great actor Rex Ingram, who sometimes chews the scenery as Anna's drunken and vengeful father. The beautiful Isabel Cooley, in a small role as Anna's sister, is a revelation here.
Eartha Kitt always plays Eartha, but her Anna more than adequately shows many facets -- on the edge of hard-bitten, but still yearning to be accepted as innocent and sweet, attracted to the fast life, but hurt and wounded and feeling unloved. And Sammy Davis' performance is much better than the reviews he received when the movie was released or on IMDb. He plays Anna's other suitor, who loves her in his own fashion, but who wants her as a companion for good times and partying, not as a wife. He's shallow, but he has a core of decency and concern for Anna, and Davis portrays both sides well. (Think of Sammy as Sportin' Life in Porgy and Bess, whom he would portray in the same year, but with depth.)
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