Anna Lucasta (1949)

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A liberated young woman refuses to be the floozy her family wants her to be!
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US / 86 minutes / bw / Security, Columbia Dir: Irving Rapper Pr: Philip Yordan Scr: Arthur Laurents Story: Anna Lucasta (1944; play) by Philip Yordan Cine: Sol Polito Cast: Paulette Goddard, William Bishop, John Ireland, Oskar Homolka, Broderick Crawford, Will Geer, Gale Page, Mary Wickes, Whit Bissell, Lisa Golm, James Brown, Dennie Moore, Anthony Caruso.

Anna Lucasta - 0 opener

In the small town of Mayberry, Pennsylvania, ex-farmer Joe Lucasta (Homolka) rules his Polish–American family with a drunken fist—or tries to, anyway, his position of power having been largely usurped by his thuggish son-in-law Frank (Crawford), married to Joe’s daughter Stella (Wickes). Others in the household are Joe’s wife Theresa (Golm), his son Stanley (Bissell) and Stanley’s wife Katie (Page). Frank and his slavish follower Stanley are essentially layabouts and Stella’s a small-minded shrew. The most frequent line of dialogue employed by the family is “Aw, shuddup.”

Anna Lucasta - 7 Joe, in typically snarling mode

Joe (Oskar Homolka), in typically snarling mode.

The only sympathetic characters among the tribe are Katie, who seems an order of magnitude more intelligent than the others, and Theresa, who like Katie displays a sweetness and generosity of nature.

Anna Lucasta - 1 Katie and Stanley

Katie (Gale Page) and Stanley (Whit Bissell).

And then there’s Joe’s other daughter Anna (Goddard), who used to be the apple of his eye but who fled from home three years ago because she couldn’t stand his overbearing protectiveness. Now she’s working as a hard-drinking waitress in New York City bars, although the movie comes as close as a Hollywood movie could in those days to implying that she supplements her meager waitressly earnings in a traditional way.

Anna Lucasta - 2 Anna spies either Noah's bar or a prospective john

Anna (Paulette Goddard) waits outside Noah’s bar . . . for what?

One day Joe gets a letter from his dear old friend Otto Strobel, who came across in the boat from the old country with Joe and Theresa and who, until ill health forced retirement, ran the farm next to Joe’s. Now Otto’s son Rudolf is coming north to take the old farm over and get it back on its feet again. He’ll be equipped with $4,000 and the need to find a good wife in a hurry. Any help that Joe could offer the lad would be much appreciated.

Frank, Stanley and Stella are all over the news of the $4000. If only Anna could be brought back into the fold, she could marry Rudolf and give the Lucastas access to the dough. A furious Joe resists the notion: he’s not going to saddle the son of his old friend with a dud like Anna. It’s only after Frank takes his fists to him that the old man agrees to go to NYC and bring his daughter back.

Meanwhile, Anna has been hanging around the bar called Noah’s Ark with her friends there: the owner, Noah (Geer), and the server, Blanche (Moore). The dialogue between them is snappy:

Anna: “I’ve been sittin up with a sick friend.”
Noah: “Anyone you know?”

Anna Lucasta - 3 Noah, who may be, though Anna doesn't realize it, her best friend in NYC

Noah (Will Geer) may be, though Anna doesn’t realize it, her best friend in NYC.

She’s being widely wooed, too, notably by sleazy business type Eddie (Caruso), who has dreams of expanding his scuzzy empire by buying into the swanky pool joints uptown, and wants Anna to fulfill the role of the classy babe on his arm:

Eddie: “I’ll bet if I dressed you up you could look like the real thing.”
Anna: “Gee, thanks.”

And it’s not just a business relationship that he has in mind:

Eddie: “Well, if we’re going to work together, we’re going to have to spend a lot of time with each other . . .”
Anna: “I’d rather do time than spend it with you.”

Besides, she has other irons in the fire, one of whom, the sailor Danny Johnson (Ireland), turns up just then. He’s planning to settle back on dry land, and has ideas that Anna might share that life with him. She readies herself for a marriage proposal—a proposal that doesn’t come. She’s just engaging in a spot of ostentatious revenge flirting with Danny’s pal Buster (Brown) when Dad appears at the door, begging her to come home. It’s an auspiciously chosen moment.

Anna Lucasta - 4 Anna discovers Danny isn't interested in marriage

Anna (Paulette Goddard) discovers Danny isn’t interested in marriage.

Back home in Mayberry, nothing goes according to Frank and Stella’s plan. Rudolf (Bishop) arrives and proves not to be the anticipated easily dupable hick but a sophisticated college graduate. Even more calamitously, he and Anna fall in love more or less at first sight, although she’s initially reluctant to admit any such thing, preserving her woman-of-the-world facade:

Anna: “I’m Anna.”
Rudolf: “I’m Rudolf. Shouldn’t take long to get acquainted with you.”
Anna: “Doesn’t, as a rule.”

Anna Lucasta - 6 Frank tries to derail Rudolf's immediate attraction to Anna

Frank (Broderick Crawford) tries to derail the immediate attraction Rudolf (William Bishop) feels toward Anna.

Still, the schemers decide to persevere; after all, as Stella points out, Rudolf’s “got a wallet in his breast pocket that makes him walk lop-sided.”

Anna Lucasta - 5 Stella and Frank try to persuade Anna they're only looking out for her interests

Stella (Mary Wickes) and Frank (Broderick Crawford) try to persuade Anna (Paulette Goddard) they’re only looking out for her interests.

Eventually, though, the two lovers marry. On their return from the wedding, however, Anna finds a note from Danny, who, ignorant of the marriage, has come to Mayberry to try to resume where he left off. Far worse is that Joe’s hatred for his daughter, about whom he can now believe nothing good, has risen to new and crazy heights. He’s even written to the principal of the high school where Rudolf has landed a coaching job to pay the bills until the farm’s fully functional; as Joe explains bitterly to Anna, “I don’t think they want anyone around the school whose wife might teach kids things they can’t get out of books.”

Anna Lucasta - 8 Rudolf spells out to Anna the joys of life on the farm

Rudolf (William Bishop) spells out to Anna (Paulette Goddard) the joys of life on the farm.

Torn apart by grief and frustration, Anna flees the family nest once more, going back to NYC with Danny and resuming her old gadabout ways there. The stage is clearly set for a final tragedy.

Yordan’s stage play, upon which this movie is based, was apparently inspired by Eugene O’Neill’s play Anna Christie (1921), likewise about a good-time girl attempting to turn her life around. Of course, the movie version couldn’t be quite as explicit as the one that appeared on the Broadway stage, for fear of running foul of the Hays Code. Moreover, the Broadway production was adapted to be set among African–Americans, rather than Polish–Americans.

Anna Lucasta - 9 Mama Theresa

Mama Theresa (Lisa Golm).

What’s also left tacit in the movie is the nature of Joe’s relationship to Anna. As noted, she was the apple of his eye years ago—Stanley at one point recalls that pop beat him and Stella regularly but never laid a finger on Anna—and then, when she defied him, became so much a target of his loathing that no one was allowed to speak her name in the house. Now, as he stares at her with hatred through his bloodshot, unfocused eyes, we sense an undercurrent of incestuous longing. In this reading, the reason he’s so intent on destroying her marriage to Rudolf no longer has anything to do with concern for the welfare of his old friend’s son; it’s pure sexual jealousy. If Joe can’t possess Anna, no other man can. Better she be a roundheels in New York than living as the wife of the man she loves.

The movie does show some signs of its stage origins—there tend to be fairly long scenes in a single setting, before we move to the next setting for another longish scene—but is otherwise far from stodgy or theatrical. There are some strong performances, notably from Goddard, Homolka, Wickes and Geer, with Page and Golm offering excellent support. Crawford isn’t asked to stretch himself, and doesn’t, but Ireland is as (nearly) always very good too, although it’d have been nice had his part been a bit bigger.

Anna Lucasta - 10 Danny can't believe Anna could have married

Danny (John Ireland) can’t believe that Anna (Paulette Goddard) has gone and gotten herself married.

There have been various remakes of Anna Lucasta. The best-known adaptation, Anna Lucasta (1958) dir Arnold Laven, with Eartha Kitt, Henry Scott and Sammy Davis Jr in the lead roles, reverts to the African–American environs of the Broadway production, with the venue shifted to California. As we might expect, it’s allowed to be somewhat franker about Anna’s lifestyle and Joe’s motivation. There’s also been a Greek TV version, Anna Lucasta (1977 TVM) dir Antonis Antoniou and Kostas Zogopoulos. A new adaptation, dir Larry Flash Jenkins and again with a black cast, is reportedly in development.

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12 thoughts on “Anna Lucasta (1949)

  1. Another Paulette Goddard film I’d like to see. This one I have never heard of so thanks for the intro. Quite a cast.

    • Yes, I’m surprised how little known the movie appears to be — this is the first external review of it to be recorded at the IMDB, for example. For some reason I’ve always assumed it was well known; I first saw it many years ago, so perhaps I just assumed that, if I’d seen it, everyone must have!

      Perhaps the new remake, assuming it materializes, will stir a bit more interest in this version.

  2. Another very tempting review, John. I’m with Vienna on this one – Paulette Goddard, sign me up. (I’d never heard of it either.) She must have had quite a colourful personal life what with links to Charlie Chaplin and Erich Maria Remarque..

    • As I mentioned to another commenter, I was startled to discover it’s so obscure. Maybe it just fell between several gaps at the time of its release, or something, and never quite caught up? It’s in no sense a major classic, but it deserves to be regarded as at least a minor one.

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