Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Anna Lucasta (1958)

Carson on TCM which premiered last July, is resuming again on TCM tonight, with a whole new (to TCM; Johnny Carson isn't doing any new interviews last I checked) set of interviews, and will be running new ones every Tuesday night this month. I'm not certain of the order of the interviews since the printable monthly schedule has a different order than TCM's daily online schedule. I'd guess that the 1972 interview with Sammy Davis, Jr. is going to be the last one, since the rest of the night's lineup is devoted to movies with him in the lineup. These include the very interesting Anna Lucasta, which is on at 11:30 PM.

Anna Lucasta is played by Eartha Kitt, and we see her at the beginning of the movie in one of those portside dive bars that serve sailors both booze and the possiblity of sex if they want to buy it; this particular place, being in San Diego, serves the men coming and going from the US Navy base nearby. Anna is working there, having left her familiy back in Los Angeles; however, she's also got one particular sailor Danny (that's Sammy Davis, Jr.) interested in her and wanting to settle down with her and provide her a better life after his navy hitch is up.

Back to that family in Los Angeles. It's one of those multi-generational families, with the patriarch Joe (Rex Ingram) dealing in junk, his wife Theresa (Georgia Burke), and their two adult children together with their spouses. It's not quite clear whether Anna was the black sheep and had to leave, or whether she left for whatever reason and then started working in the sex trade. Either way, Dad knows what Anna does and doesn't like it, while Mom would like the chance for a reconciliation with her daughter. All of those conflicts are about to come to the fore, although you could probably figure that out since if it didn't happen, there wouldn't be much of a movie.

Those conflicts come in the form of a letter from an old frend of Joe's back east. The guy is sending his son Rudolph to California with several thousand dollars, in the hope that he'll be able to find a good wife to bring back to the family farm: does Joe know anybody like that? Well, Joe doesn't, but everybody else does, and that person is Anna. For Mom, having Anna get married to the guy would mean a chance to et out of the sex trade and have a better, more stable life. Everybody else, though, sees the money. Except for Joe, who still won't have it. Still, the rest of the family convinces Joe to go down to San Diego and fetch Anna to tell her of the offer.

If you thought there was conflict before, there's about to be a whole lot more. Anna discovers that Danny wants to live with her but not necessarily marry her. Rudolph states that although he's looking for a wife, it's not to take back to the farm; instead, he's gotten a job as an instructor at one of the local colleges. And Joe still doesn't like his daughter, and seems to like her even less, to the point that he's willing to sabotage her chances of happiness.

Anna Lucasta is an interesting story, although at the times it goes over the top. I think that's more down to the script than the acting though. The script plays out like something you'd think was written by Tennessee Williams, although in fact it was written by screenwriter Philip Yordan, originally as a stage play. The story had been made into a movie ten years earlier with an all-white cast, so any thoughts that the script here deals with any stereotyping of the black characters probably ought to be disregarded. As for the acting, everybody is engaging and compelling, if not quite great. Sammy Davis isn't all that believable as a sailor, but he doesn't do anything to sink the movie. Eartha Kitt is a vamp, and I wonder how much she played like this all the time; I almost expected her to break out hissing like the Catwoman at some point. Rex Ingram is a force every time he's on screen, and the rest of the cast I found not particularly memorable, but competent. It's not the greatest movie you'll ever see, but I found myself more interested in what happened to these characters than with a lot of other movies.

Anna Lucasta did get a DVD release several years ago, but it seems to be out of print.

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