Native Son (1950)
Directed by Pierre Chenal
Cast: Richard Wright, Jean Wallace, Gloria Madison, Nicholas Joy, Charles Cane, George Rigaud.
1950 89 minutes
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 15, 1999.
Based on the 1940 book by Richard Wright, the 1951 version of "Native Son" (it was remade in 1986 with a Hollywood cast) had difficulty gaining a distributor because of its "controversial" subject matter, and eventually fell through the cracks. Currently available on video, the film proves that times sure have changed, as its supposed-to-be cutting edge look at the disheartening state of race relations in the 1930s is almost completely undealt with or presented in an effective manner. 25-year-old Bigger Thomas (novelist Wright, taking over the film's lead) is a poor, lower-class black man who gets a job as a chauffeur for a rich white family. When he accidentally kills the intoxicated daughter on his first night of the job, he soon becomes a wanted man. Since the underlying themes about race are so very mild, basically the film becomes a mediocre "man-on-the-run" crime drama without any twists or likably three-dimensional characters to keep your interest. Wright, however, gives a fine debut performance.
© 1999 by Dustin Putman