Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Home Box Office's latest
biographical drama, is a touching portrait of the glamorous but troubled black movie
actress and nightclub singer who rose to stardom in the 1950s.
This project took six years to reach fruition, largely due
to the efforts of Halle Berry, its shining star and one of five co-executive producers.
They and director Martha Coolidge obviously took great
pains to recreate the stylish fashions and music of the 1940s and 1950s as the backdrop
for the bleaker black-and-white and black-and-blue story threads woven into the drama.
If there's a flaw, it's shoehorning too much within the
first 30 minutes: the young Dandridge Sisters' act at the Cotton Club; Dorothy falling in
love with and marrying one of the famous tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers; and the birth of
their daughter, whose mental retardation leads Harold Nicholas to abandon his family.
Perhaps due to cramming all of that in, Berry herself
doesn't truly generate electricity until the film's second half -- except in a brief early
scene during which young Dorothy is sexually traumatized by her mother's lesbian lover.
Dandridge's singing career is launched by music manager
Earl Mills, whose portrayal by Brent Spiner is this poignant drama's other strong
Despite getting star billing at top venues like the Riviera
in Las Vegas, Dandridge must endure racial discrimination that continues even after she
reaches her pinnacle -- the title role in 1954 all-Negro movie Carmen Jones, which
earned her the first "Best Actress" Oscar nomination for a black performer.
Dandridge's poor taste in men -- as demonstrated by her
ill-fated affair with egotistical CarmenJones director Otto Preminger and
her marriage to an abusive nightclub owner who ruins her financially -- puts her career in
a downward spiral.
In this script, by Shonda Rhimes and Scott Abbott, it
appears that Mills should have been Dandridge's love interest, but it's based on Mills'
It's Mills who guides her career until a disagreement ends
their partnership. Later, he returns and seemingly succeeds in getting her off alcohol and
drugs and on the comeback trail, until she -- like another '50s glamour girl, Marilyn
Monroe -- dies suddenly in 1962 of an apparent drug overdose.
HBO's Introducing Dorothy Dandridge will bow Aug. 21
at 9 p.m.