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Pinky (1949)

Approved | | Drama | November 1949 (USA)
2:29 | Trailer

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A light-skinned black woman falls in love with a white doctor, though he is unaware of her true race.


Elia Kazan, John Ford (uncredited)


Cid Ricketts Sumner (novel), Philip Dunne (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 1 nomination. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Jeanne Crain ... Patricia 'Pinky' Johnson
Ethel Barrymore ... Miss Em
Ethel Waters ... Dicey Johnson
William Lundigan ... Dr. Thomas Adams
Basil Ruysdael ... Judge Walker
Kenny Washington Kenny Washington ... Dr. Canady
Nina Mae McKinney ... Rozelia
Griff Barnett ... Dr. Joseph 'Doc Joe' McGill
Frederick O'Neal ... Jake Walters
Evelyn Varden ... Melba Wooley
Raymond Greenleaf ... Judge Shoreham


Pinky, a light skinned black woman, returns to her grandmother's house in the South after graduating from a Northern nursing school. Pinky tells her grandmother that she has been "passing" for white while at school in the North. In addition, Pinky has fallen in love with a young white doctor, Dr. Thomas Adams, who knows nothing about her black heritage. Pinky says that she will return to the North, but Granny Johnson convinces her to stay and treat an ailing white woman, Miss Em. Meanwhile, Dr. Canady, a black physician from another part of the state, visits Pinky and asks her to train some African American students, but she declines. Pinky nurses Miss Em but is resentful because she seems to feel that she is doing the same thing her grandmother did. Pinky and Miss Em slowly develop a mutual respect for one another. Mrs. Em leaves Pinky her property when she dies, but relatives of the deceased woman contest the new will in court. To raise money for the court fees, Pinky washes clothes... Written by Broncine G. Carter

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The love story of a girl who passed for white! See more »




Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

November 1949 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Lo que la carne hereda See more »


Box Office

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Ethel Waters, who was nominated for an academy award for her performance in this film, was the second African-American actor in history to be nominated for an Oscar. See more »


When actress Nina May Mckinney's character gets slapped on the left side of her face by the white officer, Nina mistakenly rubs the right side of her face. See more »


Pinky Johnson: I'm a Negro. I can't forget it, and I can't deny it. I can't pretend to be anything else, and I don't want to be anything else. Don't you see, Tom?
Dr. Thomas Adams: No, I don't.
Pinky Johnson: You can't live without pride.
See more »


Featured in 20th Century-Fox: The First 50 Years (1997) See more »

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User Reviews

Prejudiced? That's me, sadly . . .
23 April 2011 | by HoldjerhorsesSee all my reviews

I've never wanted to watch "Pinky" because of my own prejudices.

Jeanne Crain? Beautiful but mediocre actress. (The weak link, so I thought, in "A Letter to Three Wives.") A film about racial predicaments circa 1949, falling between "Imitation of Life" (Claudette Colbert, 1934) and Lana Turner's (1959) and Douglas Sirk's classic glossy tearjerker of the same title? Who cares about "Pinky?"

Turns out (now that I've seen it), like most prejudices, I was wrong about everything.

It's all in the story and the script, as usual.

"Pinky" bypasses every sudsy cliché of "Imitation of Life" in either incarnation and proceeds directly to the heart of characters far more real, and a story far more incisive, deeply conceived and developed, than Edna Ferber or Ross Hunter ever imagined.

The wonderful revelation of "Pinky," among many, is that Jeanne Crain could act.

Elia Kazan's acute direction elevates Crain and everybody else. Ethel Waters, Ethel Barrymore, William Lundigan? The supporting players? Flawless.

Shot and lit on sound stages, "Pinky" looks completely artificial by today's naturalistic standards. In its day, the studio stylization wasn't given a second thought. Painted cycloramas, fake Spanish moss, brilliant "mood" lighting, "classic" cinematography and all.

Yet you're almost immediately lost and involved in the plot, which NEVER takes you where you expect.

The entrance of Ethel Barrymore's character, for her brief duration in the story, is quietly amazing. Hers is the pivotal role upon which all else hinges. She realistically underplays every moment – only once ever leaving her deathbed.

Even prone, as an actress, Barrymore makes mincemeat of the rest. Not a false note nor strained effect, nothing overwrought, no begging for sympathy . . . just the character. Listen to the simple naturalistic throwaway variety in her breathing and inflections!

Same for Ethel Waters. Utter, believable simplicity and economy, always in character. Watch her eyes. (Offscreen and offstage, she could be a something of a monster, according to those who worked with her, though she always piously crossed herself before entering from the wings.) William Lundigan and every other supporting actor rises to the occasion.

But it's Jeanne Crain who is the revelation. She was deservedly nominated for an Academy Award for this performance.

Yes, she's beautiful. Yes, she's constantly artificially lit. Yes, she's photographed from all the right angles. But within those cinematic constraints of the times, she gives a truly honest, strong, intelligent and forceful performance as Pinky.

As Ethel Waters' granddaughter, that's next to genetically impossible and implausible for Jeanne Crain.

But she does it. You forget the "star" artifice in five minutes and she steadfastly carries the film. (Compare this to her somewhat "actory" though still delightful portrayal in "Letter to Three Wives.")

"Pinky's" plot turns out to be far richer and more nuanced than the expected, "She passed for white," claptrap (still tear-duct manipulative and effective) of either version of "Imitation of Life."

And no film explores to more devastating emotional effect the tragedy of race prejudice in the south than, "To Kill a Mockingbird."

But "Pinky" is the adult, intelligent and perhaps best plotted, if not best scripted, of them all, because it eschews sensational interracial rape and murder ("Mockingbird") for more mundane but still heartbreaking human relationships and realistic consequences, given the period.

It's a shame Jeanne Crain was never given an equal script or director to fulfill her talents.

But there's "Pinky," and any actress would be proud.

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