Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
USA, 1953. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Emmet Lavery, based on the story See How They Run by Mary Elizabeth Vroman. Cinematography by Alfred Gilks. Produced by Sol Baer Fielding. Music by David Rose. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu. Film Editing by Joseph Dervin.
Dorothy Dandridge is marvelous in this mini-feature that also served as Harry Belafonte‘s film debut, based on the prize winning popular story published in Ladies Home Journal. She plays a teacher at the beginning of her career who is met with challenges on her first day, we hear her voiceovers as she prays for help through each possible disaster as it arises.
For the most part, her class is a group of well-behaved and good-natured children, but one little boy named C.T. is a daily problem. His spirit is that of a good kid, but he sees no use in learning and refuses to apply himself, having already repeated numerous grades and looks to be failing once again. Determined to inspire the child to greatness, Dandridge decides that the school’s habit of punishment should be augmented with a bit of love, and sets about trying to connect with C.T. in as meaningful a way as possible.
Notable for being a 1953 film with an all-black cast (except for one character, the authority figure of a doctor), this film’s earnestness is well-intentioned and admirable, presenting its characters as wholesome and fine citizens to combat the usually more reductive portrayals of African Americans that audiences were used to at the time (usually as domestics, silly or foolish).
The wholesomeness veers into the awkward and cheesy very easily, however, with cultural details getting murky: in order to convince audiences that black people are worthy subjects, the people in this film act like upper-middle-class white people on fifties television and, apparently, are happy about their poverty.
Belafonte shows little of the spark we would get in subsequent films in his first role, but he does bust out his guitar (for almost no reason) and sings a song that certainly shows why he is a natural-born star.