Introduction: Richard Wright(1)
Finally, a top French director, Pierre Chenal,
assured Wright that he would preserve the story's integrity, and together, the
two men collaborated on the screenplay. Canada Lee, who played Bigger Thomas in
Orson Welles' theatrical version, agreed to reprise the character for the film,
but by the time production finally began, the actor had committed to other
projects. Without any prior acting experience, Wright stepped into the role.
Most of the filming occurred on a studio lot in Argentina although exterior
Chicago scenes were shot on location. Native Son premiered in November
1950 on a Pan-American flight. However, by the time it appeared on American
screens in 1951 over thirty minutes of the film lay on the cutting room floor of
the New York Board of Censors. The era's Production Code prohibited
miscegenation and also mandated that a movie could not create sympathy for a
criminal at the expense of those responsible for upholding justice. The movie
was a box office and critical failure.
In 1986, another production attempted to capture
the classic novel on film. First begun as television project for PBS's American
Playhouse series, the producers decided instead to release it instead on the big
screen. Victor Love plays Bigger Thomas, and the cast includes Elizabeth
McGovern and Matt Dillon. Ironically, the director chose to delete several of
the same scenes censored from the first film in an effort to make Bigger Thomas
"a commercially viable hero."
On display is a movie still of Richard Wright
and Gloria Madison from 1951. The pressbook for that first film includes a
synopsis of the plot, cast and crew credits, illustrations of posters and lobby
cards, and provides theater managers with articles and advertisement for
submission to local newspapers.