One last roll of the dice.
These photos of American actress Nina Mae McKinney certainly capture her beauty, even if they don’t quite capture her complexion. McKinney was actually paler than seen here, however her part black ancestry of course made her an all black actress, a designation that severely limited her commercial prospects. But thanks to her good looks—and quite a bit of talent—she became a star anyway. In Europe, she was even known as the black Garbo.
There’s not a ton of material out there on McKinney, but when we saw these photos we had to share them because we’d seen her in both the pre-blaxploitation adventure Sanders of the River, and in her debut role in Hallelujah! In the latter she plays a woman so gloriously wicked that the term femme fatale is inadequate to describe her.
She’s dressed up here as her character in that movie, and the fact that’s she’s wearing dice on her chest that show the number seven should be a warning to men that gettting involved with her is a bad gamble. But of course, bad women are irresistible, and in fact, McKinney is such a siren in Hallelujah! that she completely wrecks the leading man’s life not once, but twice. The movie came out in 1929, and that’s the year on these shots. If you’re curious, you can see McKinney performing a song with Eubie Blake here.
It's sink or swim on the blue bayou.
Dark Waters, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1944, is an interesting movie that hinges on PTSD. They didn't call it that back when the film was made, but what would you call it when someone can't put a traumatic experience behind them, is nervous, prone to panic attacks, and is socially debilitated? The sufferer is Merle Oberon and her trauma is the terrifying experience of being on a boat that was torpedoed by a German submarine. She lost her mother and father in the attack, and barely survived a subsequent ordeal on the water. Take this understandably jittery person with an untreated disorder, stick her in a mansion on the creepy-ass Louisiana bayou, then have someone or someones try to drive her insane. Who's doing the scaring? Well, that's the entire plot, and you'll have to find out for yourself.
We don't think this is a top flick, but it has a pretty cool south Louisiana feel, which is worth something. There's even a fais do-do—a Cajun dance party. It also has Elisha Cook, Jr. as a hopeless suitor and Nina Mae McKinney as a maid, which is way too minimal a role for her, but that's the way it went for women of color in 1944. Dark Waters is fine for fans of gothic creepshows, but film noir fans should temper expectations. The movie is labeled a film noir on some crowdsourced websites like IMDB and Wikipedia, but it isn't really. It has a nice a nighttime swamp climax, but one set piece does not a film noir make. It's more of a gothic thriller on the order of Rebecca. Noir fans take note. Everyone else, enjoy.