Lost Boundaries (1949) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
27 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
8/10
Really quite daring for the time
destarke2 June 1999
The topic of racial boundaries is explored in fine detail in this story about a light-skinned doctor and his family who all pass for white in a New England town. All points of view and opinions are represented. What makes this such a remarkable film is that it was made in 1949, hardly a year of profound social change in America when it came to the color line. This makes the movie that much more daring. A much better look at the topic of passing than either Pinkie or the second version of Imitation of Life (the first was quite extraordinary, and far superior). There are some really wonderful scenes including one at the town dance when the doctor's son brings home a dark-skinned black friend. The levels of acceptance and non-acceptance of the young black man are nuanced and played out beautifully.

The film suffers a tiny bit from hokey dialogue and mild melodrama, but that is more a result of the year it was made.
24 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
8/10
Interesting film about prejudice in the north
blanche-219 May 2006
"Lost Boundaries" is a 1949 film, based on the true story of a black family that passed for white in New Hampshire. The stars are Mel Ferrer, Beatrice Pearson, Richard Hylton, and Carleton Carpenter. Ferrer plays a black doctor, Scott Carter, who looks white. He wants to live as a black man, and his future wife (Pearson) who comes from a family that has always "passed" has agreed to live as a black as well. But after they marry and there's a baby on the way, and still no job, Scott decides to take a position in a white hospital. Eventually he becomes the town doctor. Before you know it, 20 years have passed, and he and his wife have never even told their children that they have black blood. This leads to complications.

Released the same year as "Pinky," "Lost Boundaries" is a very good movie about deep-seated prejudice that occurred in the north and not in its usual place, the south. Its essential problem is that it doesn't employ any black actors to play the Carters. "Pinky," a superior film, was criticized for the same reason, except that without Jeanne Crain, "Pinky" would not have been made. "Lost Boundaries" has no stars.

It is curious that the issue of "passing" seems to have piqued Hollywood's interest in the late '40s, and one wonders if World War II had something to do with it, with people venturing out of their neighborhoods and meeting others from different social positions and walks of life, all with the same goal of fighting the Axis. However, when Lena Horne went to entertain the troops in World War II, the black soldiers were behind the prisoners of war in the audience. You really wonder what was going through anyone's minds. Certainly not liberty and justice for all.
15 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
Threading the Needle
dougdoepke26 May 2006
No need to detail the plot as others have done. On the whole, this is a very sincere and thoughtful production. Easy to say that by today's standards the film lacks honesty, especially by casting whites in the lead roles. However, I expect the production went as far as any commercial production of its time could in dealing with the emerging issue of race prejudice. Remember, much of the commercial audience was in the Jim Crow South, and I expect many theaters there refused its showing, (probably in the North too, only more subtly).

Besides, the effort to de-glamorize everyone and everything in the film, along with its location photography and varying sound quality, suggests that social conscience is what the film-makers were aiming for and not big box office. This was an independent production, far from the Hollywood glamor factory, even though the executive producer Louis de Rochemont had been a top producer at 20th Century Fox. I particularly like the way they used ordinary looking people in so many of the principal and supporting parts, especially the charming but plain-faced Susan Douglas and the equally charming but goofy-looking Carleton Carpenter. The ending too, is handled with a fair amount of honesty. especially the highly symbolic very last frame.

Too bad that this was precisely the kind of gritty little conscience film that disappeared from the screen following the Mc Carthy purges that loomed on the horizon. Even though the movie is now mainly of historical interest, it indicates the sort of challenging entertainment that was lost to the public during the Cold War decade of the 1950's. More than anything, it now needs to be shown more often, so that younger generations can get a definite sense of time, place, and attitudes, even if the actors are white.
16 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
8/10
It's true. I met family members.
mw210820 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I actually had the opportunity to view this movie with the son and mother who are portrayed in the film. A group of us watched the movie then discussed it with the family. The father had already passed away. It was very interesting because they were light-skinned but they did not actually look white to me. I am a very lighted-skinned black person mistaken for white all the time so I can see how this could have happened, how people might have assumed they were some sort of ethnic mix or something, although they looked like light skinned black people to me. I have relatives who passed for white during this same time period so it's not really that surprising a story in that respect, just something that happened. I often wonder how my now "white" cousins are doing. I've heard estimates that 10-25% of southern whites actually have some black ancestry. The son did not even know he was a "Negro" until his dad was "outed" when he tried to enlist in the military.
8 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
6/10
Dated and imperfect--but in the gaps are good reminders and insights
secondtake22 November 2014
Lost Boundaries (1949)

This affected me more than I would have expected. I mean, the changes in how we see race and "race relations" since 1949 are huge. The acting is really solid, if not searingly intense (which it has room for). And the narrative is complex enough with a few turning points to make it all interesting.

There is a sense as you watch that you're being shown a social issue and that the jury is already in. We know what we are supposed to feel, and we feel it. There is also a sense of something that doesn't happen much any more—the well known trick of "passing," which means being an African-American (usually) who is light skinned enough to "pass" as white. This is no small thing, since it required a social shift and truly living a "white" American's life, including both the advantages and the inner angst of having left behind your own roots.

So it's important stuff, and good stuff. And it was more compelling in its details and acting than you might think, being both socially loaded and a bit low budget. The production standards are high, however, and the results make it worth watching. I frankly did more than confirm what I already knew about the era and race in America. I realigned a little, feeling more than reminded, but also a little educated.

Yes, the approach here is outdated, and it ignores the true range of racism and hatred of the time, even in the supposedly enlightened New England setting here. But it has the truth woven into the stylized telling. If you think you already know all this, give it a look anyway. It's imprtant enough to try.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
Lost Boundaries
samharmon2310 May 2010
Lost Boundaries I felt was a really good film. Never would have even thought of something like it. The family had such good hearts and were caring and loving people who got along with everyone they met pretty much. No body knew they were actually African American though. If people had known they would not have had the life they lived for such a long time. He wanted to tell people. He did not want to have to keep his race a secret just so he would be treated differently. Its sad to think that people were really like that. This movie has a great ending however. You think for a little while that once their secret was revealed that they were going to be shunned by everyone. They were at first too except for the daughter with her boyfriend. He never let it bother him. She was more ashamed of it than he was which is also very sad. Those kids grew up just like all the other white kids thinking that being a Negro was a terrible thing and even though the son was kind to them and one of his best friends was Negro he was not pleased and was disgusted when he found out he was actually African American himself just very light skinned. But the town comes around when in church the preacher preaches about how that is not how God would do things. God loves everyone and treats everyone equally and it was at the end of the service that people let go of the grudge they had against different colors. They also kept him as their town doctor. I saw many things in this film that I would be appalled to see actually happen to day but that doesn't change the fact that that is how the times were then and just how people acted.
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
7/10
Even in an honorable profession, you'll find racism.
mark.waltz30 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The very Caucasian looking Mel Ferrer plays a light skinned black man who graduates from medical school with honors and after an internship at a mainly black hospital ends up with a career in a Peyton Place like New England town. He passes for white for decades, barely avoiding discovery on several occasions. As his young son grows up, he makes pals with a darker black schoolmate and without realizing the truth of his own background. No secret remains hidden forever, and the naive children must deal with the revelation of their own identity.

When Ferrer is denied the opportunity to serve in the military during World War II as a medic, he must deal with a daughter who referred to her daughter who referred to her brother's friend as a coon, and the brother who looks all over his hands and face for any sign of blackness. They forget to realize that they are no different than they were before. As Ferrer's black mentor had told him years before, .You know what they say. If you're white, you're alright. If you're brown, then hang around. But, if you're black, step back.

Even up north, he finds strong elements of racism. A nurse purposely drops a pint of blood simply because she believes it came from a black man after being told by Ferrer that it is just as good as white man's blood. A minister recalls the name of Ferrer's mentor and realizes that he must have made a mistake simply because the doctor he met was black. Then, servers at a church social refuse to serve as long as a black man is in their presence.

The conflict is there for an outstanding drama on the lines of the main- stream "Intruder in the Dust" and "Pinky", and the more obscure "Bright Sun" and "Take a Giant Step", as well as "The Lawless" and "The Ring", which focus on Latin Americans. This is an excellent step in the movement towards exposing minority issues on film in a sensitive light. The film makes many real important comments, the most obvious to me as a Caucasian is that identity is an individual characteristic, the racial identification an image for society to assist in unity, and the brain and heart the connecting force that entwines us all. Simply acted, realistically written and no qualms or apologies for daring to stand up and reveal the heart of the important truths.

Canada Lee, the ground-breaking black character actor, stands out in a small but vital role as the police officer the young son encounters in New York's Harlem when he sets out to find himself. The final may seem a bit too perfect for American small town during this time, but it does give a sign of hope that has been extended through the fight for equality that culminated in Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and is still being discussed fifty years later.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
10/10
Interesting Topic
mcnimitz0411 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The movie "Lost Boundaries" was released on July 2, 1949. It was directed by Alfred Werker. The film is about a man that is part black who goes to medical school and is based on a true story. He marries and has children. He is the doctor of a small town in New England. His children never know and the townspeople never know that he is black. Everyone eventually finds out and comes to terms with the situation. This was an amazing movie. The subject matter that this movie covered was somewhat ahead of its time. This movie was released in 1949, which was over a decade before the civil rights movements and the military was in the process of desegregation. The film makers did an excellent job at making the story believable. The characters are portrayed as a normal family that has lived in the high class of the small New England town for twenty years. The actor that plays the main character of Scott Mason Carter, Mel Ferrer, did an excellent job of portraying his character. Scott Mason Carter was portrayed as a person who was very well like in that small town. His wife, Marcia Carter, who was played by Beatrice Pearson, was also portrayed in a positive manner. Both of them are high class social figure in their town which, if they had been black, they could not have become. Overall, this is an excellent movie that covers a subject that was very controversial at the time. The movie has the theme that African Americans could have the same personalities and the same type of life that white people have. The film has a high quality and seems to be very well made.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
9/10
Good movie based on actual events!
manjavhern10 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I had to watch this film for film history class and was very impressed with the fact that something like this actually happened. To think that something like this actually happened is a real eye opener. Most of us have never, nor will we ever, have this experience, so to see what this family went through was very moving. The acting was actually good. Though the casting is said to be cowardly, for the time it was made I thought they did a wonderful time. Racism still exists today, so for their time it was the best they could do. I applaud them for making the movie. When the daughter tells her father how upset she is about the "coon" coming to their house I was very shocked and then later moved by the response of her father to her. When the confirmation of the family actually being black and the towns peoples response to that was a bit unsettling to me. The ending with the speech from the preacher was very moving and emotional. A message we can all take note of. I loved the movie and the message it holds and tells to viewers. I recommend everyone see it and take note of the message it tells.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
White or Black
karn kial11 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Lost Boundaries it can be hard growing up black in the 1950's but it can be really hard growing up black but appearing white in the 1950's. This is the story of a family, the Carters, doing just that. Scott Carter just finished medical school and was accepted to work at a clinic in Georgia, where he discovers that because of his skin color, he is not welcome in to practice in the black clinic. After moving back home with his mother and father he is still unable to find work as a black doctor. With his wife being pregnant, he decides to take a job as a white man in Portsmouth Hospital. While there, he saves the life of another doctor, who explains to him that even though he may be black on the inside, he should use the advantage of looking white to take the town doctor position in Keenham. Throughout the course of his tenure there, he gains the trust and the privilege of being the town's doctor. The town accepts him as one of their own even though he was an outsider, but he still holds the secret that he is black. The Carters' world begins to crumble with the outbreak of the Vietnam War. Both Dr. Carter and his son enlist in the military. After a background check reveals that Scott Carter is black, he has to explain to his kids, who have been raised white, that they are actually black. This creates a moral dilemma. If you have the option to be raised differently that what your skin color dictates in society, would you do it? In the 50's and 60's, if a black man could pass as white, he probably would do it because it afforded him all the rights and privileges of a white man.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
7/10
The race closet
bkoganbing27 January 2016
On a famous Law And Order episode S. Eptha Merkerssen confronts a suspect who has passed for white asking him what it was like. It must be a unique experience. But it's one gay people for generations did with use of the closet. I think Mel Ferrer's real life character of Scott Carter would have identified with the closet. He was in fact in a race closet.

Mel Ferrer got his first big break playing the lead who with his wife Beatrice Pearson is a light skinned black man, one who has 'good color' so he can pass. After losing a job at a hospital he was hoping to get Ferrer gets a position at a small Maine village, not unlike Bing Crosby coming to work to take over Barry Fitzgerald's practice in Welcome Stranger. But Bing wasn't exactly carrying the secret Ferrer has. He and Pearson never even tell their kids.

It all comes crashing down when a background check on Ferrer disqualifies him from a Naval commission. The only place for black people in those days was mess stewards. The rest of the story is how Ferrer and his family deal with being ripped from the racial closet and the town around him.

In the climax the town preacher Robert Dunn who was a real minister as well speaks for the town and how they deal with this knowledge about their trusted town physician.

Mel Ferrer got his first big break in Lost Boundaries and while it's not quite a classic it holds up well for today's audience.

Might be a good film for a gay black audience to view.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
6/10
A Decent Reflection On "Passing"
sddavis6325 January 2016
My first reaction to this movie was that it came across as very dated, indeed - both in terms of the plot and the social issue involved, and just in the fact that it looked like an old movie. Some movies from that era hold up well and continue to feel fresh. This one didn't have that feel. Still, when you think about it in the context of the era in which it was made, it seems to have been a courageous enough movie, and those involved with it must have thought that it had an importance to it, because I doubt that anyone connected with it went into it thinking it would be a box office hit! In fact, it was banned in several cities - especially in the south, including Atlanta.

The story (based on the actual life of Dr. Albert Johnson) revolves around the Clark family. Mason Clark is a doctor, and Marcia is his wife. They have a seemingly normal existence. They move to a small town in New Hampshire, where he becomes the town doctor and eventually becomes quite respected and even loved. They raise two kids and everything is outwardly blissful. But the Clarks have a secret. They're "passing." Mason and Marcia both have "Negro blood" - which means they're black as far as society is concerned, but they hide that from everyone including their kids. When World War II breaks out and Mason tries to join the Navy a little investigation reveals their secret, and the once beloved town doctor is beloved no longer, and his kids are devastated - understandably since their entire life, their entire existence and their entire identity has been turned upside down.

One of the more controversial things about this movie was the casting of Mel Ferrer and Beatrice Pearson as the Clarks - both very much white actors playing blacks. Without black face, of course - because the Clarks are supposed to have been light-skinned enough to "pass" - but some are bothered by that. I think that's a 21st century reaction, mind you, that probably didn't cause much fuss in 1949. This was the first credited role for Ferrer, who had a long career and in later years became more known for guest roles in TV series and made for TV movies, and Pearson didn't really do very much after this either. I thought their performances were all right, but neither, in my opinion, were outstanding.

I'd think of this more as a historical curiosity than a truly good movie - one that gives a wee bit of a look into the plight of blacks in that era and some insight into why many of those who were able to would simply choose to hide their race and live "white" lives. (6/10)
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
8/10
Is Light skin better? The hypocrisy of Hollywood!
msladysoul19 May 2006
Quite moving. The only complaint I have is Hollywood was very hypocritical. They do a movie on blacks passing as white because of lack of opportunities but they won't give real blacks a chance to play the leading parts in Pinky and Lost Boundaries. The leading characters are good in their roles, they try really hard to step in the shoes of the Negro but they don't know what it's really like for a Negro or a white-looking Negro. The movie would have been more so effective with white-looking, mulatto Black actors/actresses playing the part. Fredi Washington was the only white-looking Negro to play a true mulatto in Imitation of Life. There were many white looking black actors and actresses who could have played the leading parts such as Hilda Simms, Anne Wiggins Brown, Fredi Washington, Jack Carter, Barrington Guy, Monte Hawley, Niles Wells, Dick Campbell, Lorenzo Tucker, Frank Silvera but Hollywood rather use white actors and actresses who didn't even look mulatto to play white Negroes. I feel if your gonna do a movie on light-skinned Blacks passing as whites, at least, get whites who look the part. Linda Darnell would have been perfect as the mulatto in this movie and in Pinky because Linda looks mulatto, she don't look like the average white woman just like Ava Gardner and Helen Morgan who played mulattoes in Showboat. Hollywood's main audience were white so they catered to white audiences and they knew whites didn't want to see REAL white-looking Negroes passing for white being among whites on screen, it would be too real for white America, they rather see white actors playing the "passing" role.

I often wonder how could a so-called Black look white and not be white? I feel if you look white, why not be white if that's dominant in you regardless if you have one or two drops of black blood. No one is pure 100% white or black. Whites made the rule that if you got one or two drops of black blood in you, your Black even if you look white. White America didn't want mixed blood in their race, even if it was their fault, so they called the mixed blood ones mulattoes and kept a close eye on them making sure they didn't pass. One thing I want to add is not every mulatto wanted to be white, not all of them were confused and ashamed like these movies try to make lighter complected Negroes out to be. Not all of them were forced to be Black by society, many chose to be Black. Many white looking Blacks were more prouder to be Black then some darker ones. Many never took the easy way out by passing when they could have but it never crossed the minds of ones actors mentioned above. Leonard Reed, a popular performer in his time lived as Black and white but he was mostly involved in the Black race.

When people say light skin is better do they mean if your light you have a better chance at a better life because you can pass for white? This movie proved whites didn't care how light a black person looked, if you had black ancestry, black family, black blood, your in the same boat as darker Blacks. Don't let other people's prejudice and racism be your problem, that's their problem. Being white doesn't automatically mean your free and perfect. This same year this movie came out, one of the first black female playwrights Elsie Roxborough committed suicide after passing for white for over 10 years, she wasn't much of a success as a white woman as she was a Black woman which goes to prove the grass isn't always so greener on the other side.

The young kids in the movie after finding out their Black already know at a young age the ridicule they will face in life and automatically they think something is wrong with them because society teaches kids at a young age, white is right and black is bad by separating and by talk. Movies of this type always try to make it look like Black people's problems are their own faults and whites done nothing wrong when it was whites who taught self-hatred to the Negro and brainwashed everyone to feel something is wrong with Blacks. If this really was the land of the free no one would hate or feel the need to pass to have a better life.

Some passed for white to help their race later like in slavery time mulattoes would pass later to return to buy their family who were still slaves and give them freedom. Many would trick whites like by buying a home from whites that they couldn't get if it was known they were Black. Some felt the white man do wrong by being prejudice so blacks did wrong by passing. This movie proves judge a person by their work, heart, goodness, forget color and race. This movie also proves not everyone hates their race but if their desperate enough to pass to get what they want they will pass. Merle Oberon hid her true race because she knew she wouldn't have become a big star. So she tricked Hollywood. Frank Silvera was a black man who passed in Hollywood movies. Some still don't know that he was a black man. He played different races on screen but off screen he was a black man. The only way for him to show his talent and not be judged was by tricking the whites in Hollywood and Broadway. Many non-whites passed and hid their true identity, or let people guess in Hollywood, Broadway, and in the world so they couldn't be judged wrongfully. So maybe light skin is better if you chose to pass. A racist and prejudice person is a person has an inferiority complex they have to make others feel something is wrong with them to make themselves feel good.
9 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
6/10
Eccentric, Maybe Cowardly, Casting But Quite A Good Movie
Can you imagine Mel Ferrer as a Pullman porter in the 1940s? Neither can I. He doesn't play one but his character, who is a young doctor passing for white, says that if he let his race be known he might end up doing that.

This is (so we are told) a true story. The Ferrer character is given a break: He becomes the local doctor in a small New Hampshire town. His wife, also played by a white actress who therefore can very easily "pass for white" goes along with his charade.

(The actor playing their son as an adult is very good. His character becomes involved in an adventure -- what, I cannot say without giving away the plot. It is related in a noir fashion that both works and seems a little generic.) Possibly we're meant to be inspired. My main feeling about the choice this couple makes is that it is egregiously unfair to their two children. The kids don't know they are black.

It's a low-keyed story, generally well acted. I found it hard not to get caught up in the central characters' dilemma.) I'm not sure why but the casting didn't bother me so much as that of "Pinky." Maybe because "Pinky" is more self-congratulatory about touching such a daring topic. "Lost Boundaries" is really not a message movie. It tells a story and tells it well -- albeit a bit dishonestly
6 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
5/10
Lost Boundaries (Alfred L. Werker, US 1949, 99 min.)
Britney Butler11 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Lost Boundaries (Alfred L. Werker, US 1949, 99 min.) is a film about a light-skinned Black American family who pass as White Americans to obtain a job and get accepted in a particular society. The father, Scott Carter played by Mel Ferrer, is a doctor who finds it easier to support his family by passing them as white. This leads to his children to grow up believing they are white, one of which even obtaining racist views. After twenty years of pretending, the truth comes out due to son and father drafting into the military.

Surprisingly Mel Ferrer, who plays the main character, and Beatrice Pearson, the character's wife, are racially white. In today's standards it is shocking the black characters are acted out by white actors. On one side a group could be offend but on the other hand, keeping in mind the situation of the time, the movie wouldn't have gone far with black actors. I think for it's time the movie could have been very affected. It discussed a major civil and political issue. During the release date the topics of racism had not so blatantly appeared in much entertainment. I wonder what the general reaction was. I can see the possibility of both white and black racism approving of the film's message and viewing it as educational. At the same time I can see both races being offended by the material.

I felt the movie held a level of entertainment even if it the overall film came off as shallow. The message was deep but the writing and acting was lacking. I wasn't pleased or displeased when it finished, meaning it left me unmoved. I would still suggest seeing the film for the historical aspect it provides to Film and Film History.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
are there people out there who are very light skinned blacks who to the point look white.
lele-cooper14 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
yes there are still people out there who are black but are very lightskinded they look Spanish or white. one of them is me. i was born a very light skinned black boy with the complexion of Spanish and white. even though i have would never pass in a day of life. it no reason to its 2010.in relations to lost boundaries i was light skinned like the doctor Scott carter who passed for white in the late 1940's with his whole family passing too. he only passed because he need a good job. only good jobs involved white people not blacks. most people mistake me for white or Spanish. like my black friends i have to explain to them I'm black because when they see my parents that are darker skinned than me they are shocked because they think i was white. the rest of my family members are darker than me i am probably the lightest skinned one on my fathers side. i have a biracial cousin and I'm lighter than her and I'm not biracial at all. in one of my baby pictures i looked pale white. black people and whites get confused when they see my parents or my brother because they assume I'm white. they see me as a white person.Scott can pass without knowing it because people assume. i have to explain to my black friends that I'm black also because my father is very dark and also my mother and my brother is brown and my friends look confused about my race and think I'm adopted because I'm so light skinned and my parents are darker than me.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
8/10
A Drama of Great Power
Richard Chatten30 December 2016
During the immediate postwar period Hollywood developed a new maturity and a social conscience on racial matters given expression in 1947 by two dramas about anti-Semitism, 'Crossfire' and 'Gentleman's Agreement'. Two years later, 'Lost Boundaries' was one of at least four films released in 1949 addressing discrimination against black Americans preceded by 'Home of the Brave' and followed by 'Pinky' and 'Intruder in the Dust'.

The issues addressed by 'Lost Boundaries' anticipated 'Imitation of Life' and the British 'Sapphire' by ten years, but 'Imitation of Life' itself was already based on a 1933 novel that had been filmed before in 1934. The 1934 version of 'Imitation of Life' is possibly unique in that the daughter who 'passes' was actually played by a black actress, Fredi Washington (1903-1994), who is superb, and whose failure to go on to a fruitful career in Hollywood speaks volumes. The topic remains hot today, with the White House about to be occupied by the man who sponsored the 'birther' campaign against his mixed-race predecessor (who himself once raised eyebrows by describing himself as a 'mutt'); while only last year the whole situation was turned on its head when black activist Rachel Anne Dolezal was 'outed' as white.

'Crossfire' was actually based on a novel in which the original murder victim had been a homosexual, and the issue of 'passing' for straight for the sake of a quiet life also remains a live one, as Jonathan Demme's 'Philadelphia' (1993) testified. (Richard Hylton - who plays the son in 'Lost Boundaries' - ironically returned to the stage after Fox declined to renew his contract due to rumours about his sexuality, and eventually committed suicide in San Francisco in 1962.)

Mounted by Louis de Rochemont to resemble a documentary, 'Lost Boundaries' depicts a world unfamiliar even today to many white audiences of America's black professional class, and is based on the case of Dr. Albert C. Johnston (1900-1988), a black radiologist who along with his wife Thyra (1904-1995) passed as white in thirties New Hampshire (and was even chairman of his local Republican Party) until his cover was blown when the USN withdrew his commission in 1940 after learning that he was part black. The story of Dr. Johnston and his family was the subject of a 'Reader's Digest' article in 1947, followed in 1948 by a book, 'Lost Boundaries', by William L. White (author of 'Journey for Margaret' and 'They Were Expendable') before being turned into this film, which won the award for Best Screenplay at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival and was banned in both Atlanta and Memphis. (Dr. Johnston himself continued to work in Keene, N.H. until moving to Hawaii in 1966).

For modern viewers more used to seeing Mel Ferrer in escapist Hollywood fare like 'Scaramouche' and 'Lili' his role in this is a surprise; but he is in fact one of several actors making their debuts in this film, notably Richard Hylton - whose discovery that he's black just as he was about to enter the navy has a power equivalent to the plight of the daughter in 'Imitation of Life' - and a charming and impossibly young-looking Carleton Carpenter in a smaller role. The fact that the son's situation is far from unique is revealed when a black police lieutenant observes, "Ohh, one of those cases, eh? Some times they really do go screwy". Canada Lee is excellent as usual as Lt. Thompson, and it's yet another of the film's many ironies that when he died of a heart attack three years later at the age of 45 he was at the time being hounded by the HUAC.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
6/10
A decent portrayal that evokes empathy
duraflex19 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
This movie based on a real-life family and it plays rather well.

Without excessive sentimentality, it portrays the adjustment of a family that looks white but has a trace amount of "negro" in their blood line and are therefore regarded as black.

The lead character - a competent, young doctor Scott Carter - is rejected for employment by a black hospital administrator because he doesn't look black. Carter then tries to pass for white in a northern state and get a job as a doctor there. He succeeds in the north and raises a son and daughter never telling them of their mixed racial background. His secret is uncovered when he applies for a commission in the US Navy. It becomes known that he and his wife are both negroes and negroes at that time were not allowed to become Naval officers. The Navy policy was soon revised to allow black officers.

The film serves as an object lesson in the difficulty of interracial relationships, biracial children and never quite fully fitting in either world. Although that's somewhat changed from when this film was made some 65 years ago, it will continue to be a issue.

The film treats the subject fairly and without the hyperbole and excess of today's films on racial issues. The net result is compassion for this family.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
8/10
Miss the Golden Age
trvr_hffmn16 January 2012
Others have described Lost Boundaries very well here, so we will not retrace the plot. As we watched this movie on TCM, it again reinforced our feeling that the movie industry has in some ways lost its way today. From what we can see, while Lost Boundaries was well reviewed by contemporary viewers, it was not particularly recognized when it was made. Nevertheless, being a modest production of its time, it easily surpasses so many movies made today with far greater resources in terms of budget, "star power," and other means. When the industry focused on telling human stories with human beings, it was much more convincing. Today, there is so much focus on marketing, gimmickry, "star" power, and extraneous things like special effects and post-production polishing that it seems the stories lack that "human touch."

We live in Hawaii, and recently saw "The Descendants" out of natural curiosity to see our home state featured, and our response, and that of others we know, was lukewarm. The story seemed to lack depth and any real investment of characters to any stakes (since it was in part about land and wealth), yet it is being touted for Best Picture and more. Clooney was already given Best Actor in the Golden Globes, and our belief is that the award is being rigged because he is a Hollywood favorite and insider. It is a typical Clooney job...glib and slightly sarcastic, and it baffles us that it merits any such recognition.

Occasionally someone makes a great picture because talent is irrepressible and will always emerge, but now it seems to be in spite of the industry rather than because of it. It seems that the television producers seem to have passed the feature film producers in telling stories (Mad Men, Breaking Bad). Tell stories with people, about people, by people...please.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
"Things aren't so different up here"... Excellent movie
newyorkp716 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This movie was amazing for its time and holds up well. It is quite blunt in its convictions and it's heart is 100% in the right place. Out of respect to the other, better reviews on IMDb of this film I 'll try not to be too repetitive in praising it- let me just say that I agree with all the positive reviews. Mel Ferrer, while not physically "right" for the part, gives an excellent and soulful performance. The small- town atmosphere is well rendered. There is a black police lieutenant who oversees white detectives in the NYC section of the movie. The scenes at the black medical clinic in Boston are moving. The dance scene is outstanding, with some of the town residents accepting the son's friend and some not- mostly conveyed through facial expressions. "Lost Boundaries" will make you fall in love with the human race all over again, if you are in the right frame of mind. It spends an hour and a half exploring ugly truths while it also shows the better instincts we each possess and it leaves us feeling warm and hopeful. Great work done by all involved and no one slacked off on this one. Thanks! Oh and TCM- great job always and GREAT job today, MLK Jr. day.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
7/10
Lost Boundaries
Keltxangel6 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
In the opening scene of Lost Boundaries, there is a mysterious narrator voice that tells us that there are many secrets in this little New Hampshire town. It grabs the attention of the audience and gives the initial impression that this movie is going to be a mystery in which will unravel as the movie goes on. I think that it was interesting and brave of Scott to continue to tell the hospitals that he was applying for that he was not white because it shows his determination to be accepted as who he is and not what color of skin he has. I feel that the acting in this film was very good, and not overly dramatic, especially considering the content. The unity of the townspeople at the end is very inspiring and helps one to understand that even a small town can break through racial boundaries.
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
4/10
Lost Boundaries
zoro_allen9 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
It may have been daring in its time but in today's age the most daring thing about it is using white actors to play as light skinned blacks. I feel that the message behind the story is somewhat negated by this. Unable to find a job Scott Carter decides to call himself white when he moves to a small town in Massachusetts. The family lives their life this way for decades before they are found out and trouble ensues. Suddenly the town is faced with a troubling prospect as they deal with the preconceived race notions that blacks were inferior and the fact that they've been treating the Carters as equals for years. What's amazing about this is that it was based on a true story.

The cheery ending is a little unrealistic but it fits the movie well. The film is decently acted and well shot but seems a little fragmented in its presentation.
1 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
6/10
Mixed white family and the "one drop" myth
blanca52200022 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The important thing to remember here is that the Carter family (Johnston in real life) were white people of mixed racial ancestry and entitled to call themselves "white." Change the tainted partial Negro ancestry to American Indian, and who would dare to say that they were unworthy of their European ancestry and the racial description "white"? The film is not the anti-passing "you're not good enough to be white" screed exemplified by "Pinky" and "Imitation of Life." "Lost Boundaries" is different in these ways: 1) The family members and their extended kin are all mixed-race whites; there is no black "mammy" figure as in "Pinky" and "Imitation of Life," where the heroine is presented as a genetic freak with no white kin.

2) The film shows some respect for the fact that many mixed whites victimized by white racial purity laws rejected that nonsense and did not self-police themselves humbling accepting the false "Negro" label.

3) The film is honest enough to show that even those who had humbly accepted the insulting "Negro" label (which is similar to Jews accepting the "non-Aryan" label during the Third Reich) were very uneasy about it and often did things that showed their true white orientation. That is why the "Carter" parents not only live as whites in an all-white New Hampshire town, but don't inform their children of the "taint" in their ancestry. After the great revelation, Scott Carter even tells his son that there is no reason for him and his sister to not continue living as white. After all, they ARE white.

4) The Carter family is so white in both looks and culture, it makes the parents look incredibly stupid for ever submitting to the "Negro" label in the past.
1 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
5/10
"Lost Boundaries" actually endorses racism
padpowell19 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
"Lost Boundaries" fails in its supposed anti-racism message by accepting the ridiculous idea that the Carter family are "Negroes." That's like calling Jews "non-Aryans." Since the "one drop" forced hypodescent myth of white racial "purity" is based on the assumption of the biological "inferiority" of the very "race" this movie claims to champion, the idea that the Carters are "Negroes" and therefore not "worthy" of being who they really are (white) should have been vigorously opposed within the film.

The Carters were actually "living a lie" when they were accepting the idea that they were merely "Negroes." They were "passing for who they really were" (white) when they lived in New Hampshire.

Unfortunately, this film also has the standard "self policing" of "white purity" when the son and daughter reject their "pure white" sweethearts (who accept them) because they no longer feel worthy of marriage to other whites once their "negro blood" was revealed.
0 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
Living a Lie
Danarella10 May 2010
Lost Boundaries is based on the true story of a light-skinned black family who passes for white in a small New England town. Director Alfred L. Werker presents the family as perfect and kind, with the father, Scott Carter as a skilled doctor who everyone in the town loves. But if they were to discover that the family were really black, then they would be outcasts. Dr. and Mrs. Carter were both raised white, but they wanted to embrace their culture and stop hiding. However, when Dr. Carter is unable to find a job as a black man, he must again hide his identity. They in turn raise their children as white, and the children have no idea of their true heritage.

The film uses white actors Mel Ferrer and Beatrice Pearson as Dr. and Mrs. Carter. By looking at the choice by today's standards, once might ask why they didn't use actual light-skinned black actors for the roles. However, the audience should realize that the film would not have received funding if they planned to use black actors.

The film definitely tries to be politically correct by portraying the family with no faults. I feel that if they film had humanized the character a little bit more by having them make a mistake or have an enemy, then the audience could better sympathize with their troubles. The director makes the film play like a television movie, with a narrator to tell the details of the family's plight. While the subject matter is groundbreaking, there is nothing notable about the script, acting, or direction. Overall, it is a forgettable film.
0 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful?
Report this | Copied to clipboardCopy link
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews