Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Pinky (1949)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Pinky (1949)

In 20th Century Fox's and director Elia Kazan's stirring and successful melodrama - one of the earliest and most controversial films from Hollywood about inter-racial relations -- and an example of the many post-war 'problem pictures':

  • Patricia "Pinky" Johnson (Jeanne Crain), a light-skinned black nurse and the grand-daughter of illiterate, very religious laundress Dicey Johnson (Oscar-nominated co-star Ethel Waters) tried to pass for white after she returned to her home in the South
  • Pinky was haunted by the thought of wanting to return North, where she had fallen in love with white Boston doctor Dr. Thomas Adams (William Lundigan) during 3 years of nurse training, while working jobs and winning scholarships
  • the scene of Pinky experiencing bigotry from two local police officers, when she was accused of being black by Rozella (Nina Mae McKinney), the wife of conniving Jake Waters (Frederick O'Neal) (who had kept money given to him by Dicey to be mailed to Pinky up North): "She's nothin' but a low-down colored gal," and Pinky was forced to admit: "Yes, it's true, I'm colored. My grandmother's Mrs. Dicey Johnson"; she was briefly arrested, but then released
  • while walking alone at night on a deserted road, she was accosted by two intoxicated, racist white ruffians: "You must be a stranger around here. We can't let no white girl walk by herself through this here nigger section"; after learning that she lived nearby, they chased after her while making derogatory comments: ("That's the whitest dinge I ever saw") and calling her a "swamp rabbit"; they assaulted her, and tried to get her intoxicated: "We ain't gonna hurt you. We just wanna have a little fun, baby...Let's see your face, baby. Hold up your face. Oh, you're pretty. You're pretty" - however, she was able to break free and run away
Accosted and Assaulted by Two Racist Whites in a Vehicle
  • Pinky was ready to pack and return North and said she wasn't interested in remaining and treating a rich, ailing 80 year-old white widow named Miss Em (Ethel Barrymore), one of Dicey's neighbors (and employers) living in a dilapidated run-down mansion nearby: "I only came back here because I hadn't anywhere else to go. I'd forgotten what it was like. I've been away a long time, Granny. I've known another kind of life. I've been treated like a human being. Try to understand, Granny, like an equal. Don't you see I can't go back into that house? Haven't I had enough without that?"
  • the scene of Dicey attempting to convince Pinky (with a hardened heart) to remain and treat the dying woman: ("Pinky. I worked long and hard to give you an education. And if they done educated the very heart out'ch you, everything I've worked and slaved so hard for is wrong. Now, hear me! You're goin' up to Miss Em's! You're gonna take good care of her, like the nurse you is, or I swear on the Holy Bible, I'll rip the livin' daylights out ya!")
  • although Pinky continued to pack, she changed her mind when Dicey told how when she had pneumonia, Miss Em slept in her shack, cooked, fed and washed her, and even "emptied my slops" until Dicey recovered - "Now she's fxin' to die and my own grandchild done hardened her heart agin her"; she volunteered to Dr. Joe McGill (Griff Barnett)
Miss Em and Nurse Pinky
  • over time, although they had some tiffs (for example, Pinky berated Miss Em for her racism: ("What do you want me to do, stay here and live this sort of life when I don't have to?...What am I then? You tell me. You're the ones that set the standards, you whites. You're the ones that judge people by the color of their skins. By your own standards, by the only ones that matter to you, I'm as white as you are. That's why you all hate me. What should I do? Dye my face? Grovel and shuffle? Say "yes'm" and "no'm"? Marry some man like Jake Waters? Carry a razor in my stocking?"), Pinky slowly gained respect for Miss Em
  • a surprise visit from Dr. Adams (William Lundigan) from Boston, who learned for the first time that Patricia was "Pinky," the grand-daughter of a black washerwoman - he vowed that he hoped he wasn't prejudiced: "I don't think I'm prejudiced. I'm a doctor and I hope enough of a scientist not to believe in the mythology of superior and inferior races. It is a tricky business, though. You never know what exists deep down inside yourself. I want to be absolutely sure that nothing like that exists inside of me"; although they were in love, Pinky affirmed that she couldn't leave with him because of her caring for Miss Em: ("It's a debt that has to be repaid")
Surprise Visit from Dr. Thomas Adams (William Lundigan)
  • when Miss Em died, she bequeathed her property to Pinky; thus followed courtroom scenes and Pinky's defense led by reluctant and retiring Judge Walker (Basil Ruysdael), who was convinced to help Pinky ("The expressed wishes of the dead should not be set aside to gratify the greed or the prejudice of the living"), when the will was contested by Melba Wooley (Evelyn Varden), the wife of Miss Em's first cousin - once removed; she falsely testified that Pinky "doped" Miss Em and forced her to write the will with her as beneficiary; by the end of the case, it was judged that the will was a "legal document...good and valid"
  • however, Judge Walker told Pinky that he was doubtful that winning the case had served the interests of the community: ("Well, Pinky, you won. You got the house and the land. And you got justice. But I doubt if any other interests of this community have been served")
The Will Declared a "Legal Document"
Judge to Pinky: "I doubt if any other interests of this community have been served"
  • in the film's conclusion, Pinky was determined to perpetuate the legacy and wishes of Miss Em: ("She told me once to be myself wherever I was...She didn't want me to go. She didn't want me to pretend...She thought the house would keep me here "), and not leave the South to marry Dr. Adams, live in Denver and continue her masquerade as a white woman: ("You've got to make a break, get away from it!"); Pinky told Dr. Adams that she had affirmatively decided otherwise, and didn't want to run away: ("I don't want to get away from anything. 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?...You can't live without pride")
  • with her inherited house and land, Pinky established "Miss Em's Clinic and Nursery School" to help the black community, with assistance from black physician Dr. Canady (Kenny Washington), Dr. Joe McGill, and Dicey; Pinky hugged the post of the clinic's sign in the final image

Patricia "Pinky" Johnson
(Jeanne Crain)

Grandmother Dicey Johnson (Ethel Waters)

Pinky - Haunted by Thoughts of Her Love for a White Northern Doctor

Pinky to Police Officers: "Yes, it's true, I'm colored"

Pinky (about living in the South): "I'd forgotten what it was like."

Dicey Persuading Pinky to Stay and Treat Miss Em

Volunteering to Dr. McGill to be a Trained Nurse for Miss Em

Courtroom Trial:

Defense Lawyer Judge Walker (directed at Melba): "The expressed wishes of the dead should not be set aside to gratify the greed or the prejudice of the living"

Melba: Miss Em was "doped" and "clean out of her mind"

Pinky to Dr. Adams: "I don't want to get away from anything"

Miss Em's Clinic and Nursery School


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z