Clark Gable Should've Stopped Playing Southerners
I am very confused by a lot of this movie. First off, they make Rau-Ru (Sidney Poitier) sing a shanty early in. Because, hey, he's a slave. They can make him sing if they want to. But I don't think it's really him singing. It's a baritone, which I'm quite sure a singing Sidney Poitier wouldn't be; speaking, he sounds like a tenor. And no one, anyone, has a Southern accent. Oh, I wasn't expecting it from Clark Gable. Clark Gable never has a Southern accent. And Sidney Poitier has his own rich, beautiful voice. (And he worked to remove his accent.) Dollie (Tommie Moore) just sounds obnoxious. Michele (Carolle Drake) sounds nice, but not from New Orleans. There are other problems, which I'll get to in a minute, but that's the start.
Young, lovely, weirdly-named Amantha Starr (Yvonne De Carlo) returns from a private Northern girls' boarding school to her father's Kentucky plantation, coming just too late to be at his deathbed. During the funeral, it turns out that . . . he owed money? Anyway, we also find out that Amantha's mother was a slave! Therefore, she is one, too, despite the fact that her father obviously raised her as a legitimate daughter and might therefore have been assumed to have freed her at birth. Or anyway, at some point before his death. Also, he never told her. So she gets taken into slavery, real slavery, at the funeral. She is hauled South into New Orleans and sold at an auction, that, given the era, does not really cover the issues that would have come up at an auction of a young, attractive, white-seeming, [i]virginal[/i] woman. The also improbably-named Hamish Bond pays $5000 for her, and she ends up as his mistress. But since it's Clark Gable, he seduces her, and she falls in love with him, and so forth. No rape here.
So, yeah, let's talk about the newly-enslaved "Manthy." There would seem to be only one possible destination for her. Assuming the whole sequence of events would have/could have happened in the first place, of course. At any rate, Manthy would not have been sold in the auction with all the others. She would have been a . . . specialty purchase. Beautiful, intelligent, accomplished, and accustomed to passing. (Not that you can really call it that of someone who believed that she was all white.) It's clear that Clark Gable is buying her so that she will be his mistress, and it's clear that $5000 will pay for that. But for heaven's sake, she would have been worth quite a lot to a "cathouse." Certainly she would not have been sold in the same auction as field hands. Equally certainly, she would not have been raped before the auction.
Another thing I find interesting is that, when Seth Parton (Rex Reason, or Cal from [i]This Island Earth[/i]), who knew her before, confronts her about the fact that she is once again, or for the first time, passing for white, he denounces her only briefly for having been Clark Gable's mistress. Oh, fine, he acknowledges that it was a bad thing. However, he basically brushes it off. He's going to spend much more time yelling about her colour. The funny thing is that I thought the Code would have been more down on the sex than the colour. Shows what I know, I guess. Miscegenation was still a powerful fear, even in 1957. Arguably more so in 1957--as blacks got more rights, the fears of those who wanted to put them down increased. The only way they could show the love story between Hamish and Manthy in the first place was by having her played by a white woman. (Don't be fooled by the name--Yvonne De Carlo was from Vancouver.) I don't think they noticed that she basically had more chemistry with Sidney Poitier.
So how does the movie treat slavery? Michele's love for her owner is basically forgotten, and it's pretty much assumed to be Just One of Those Things. While it is arguably true that the slaves would not be all that much better under the sharecropping system after the War, let's fact it--those sharecroppers were not being mistreated by the Northerners. They weren't treated [i]well[/i] in the North, true, but it was Southern gentlemen like Hamish who put them back in bondage. Rau-Ru's grievances are supposed to be blown out of proportion--Hamish taught him and treated him well, right? What's his problem? General Benjamin Butler (Marshall Bradford) is shown as more racist than the slave owner and former slave trader Hamish, despite the fact that Butler later turned out to be a champion of civil rights for blacks. Not all Northerners were. But to make Butler the villain is to make quite clear that your sympathies do not lie with the slaves.