28 October 2020 | MartinHafer
A rather brave and unusual film for 1952.
During the 1930s, 1940s and 50s, Hollywood often shied away from topics that might offend some viewers...particularly those in the segregated south. There were some exceptions (such as "Pinky" and "Intruder in the Dust"), but generally the studios avoided any sort of controversy. After all, it was all about the bottom line and films that were pro-Black were seen as box office poison...and nasty stereotypes were more than welcome. In light of this, I am frankly shocked that "Lydia Bailey" was made in the first place.
The story is set around the beginning of the 19th century. An American lawyer, Albion Hamlin (Dale Robertson), is in Haiti to find a woman in order to get her to sign papers concerning her dead father's estate. But his timing sucks...he's there during a very turbulent time, as the revolution had recently occurred and the Black slaves had just overturned the French government. This sucks because various factions existed....and some might not take too kindly to a white man. And, a French army and navy are on their way, as Napoleon was intent on reconquering the land. Into this firestorm Albion arrived....and soon is befriended by a local militia chief, King Dick (William Marshall). What's next? Well...a LOT. See the film and learn a bit about history, as Haitian history is rarely ever talked about in American movies.
Apart from one character, Lydia herself, the writing is very good. I particularly liked Dale Robertson--his character was interesting, he was a very good and underrated actor and it was nice to see him become friends with the local Black leadership. He and they treated each other with respect and friendship...something you just didn't see in other films in 1952. The equality of their relationships was refreshing. Additionally, the movie was exciting and gave some wonderful opportunities for great Black actors...something they rarely got at that time. In particular, William Marshall (King Dick) with his gorgeous voice was just wonderful. It's really a shame that today he's mostly known for playing Blacula...not a bad set of films but ones that really never gained a wide audience. Had Marshall been born a bit later, he surely would have been seen as a great actor. The same could be said about several other terrific actors...such as Roy Glenn, Bill Walker and Ken Renard as the 'Black George Washington', who played the great Toussaint L'Overture...the real leader of the Haitian revolution.
All in all, an exciting and educational film that really surprised me...in a very positive way. Well worth seeing and seriously underrated.