Creating as much captivating celluloid magic as Barbara Stanwyck in the 1933 Pre-Code classic Baby Face, actress Theresa Harris would surely have had a much bigger career if she had been born in the 21st century. Unfortunately, the gorgeous and talented Harris, akin to such filmic contemporaries as Nina Mae McKinney and Louise Beavers, often found herself playing maids and other unglorified subservient types for the thirty years that encompassed the entirety of her career.
Nicely, two of the over 100 credits that distinguish her creative output include Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie. These Val Lewton masterpieces did cast Harris as a happy-go-lucky waitress and a loyal maid…typical, prejudiced fare. But she fills Zombie’s Alma with a sense of beauty and strength even when the character confides her love of domestic duties to the film’s heroine. Harris’ matter of fact essence gives the role a seriousness and sense of class, thankfully eradicating any comic qualities or unceremoniously stereotypical gestures.
Minnie, the all-night café goddess of Cat People, meanwhile comes off as a friendly companion to the film’s leads when they visit her place of work. With the help of director Jacques Tourneur, Harris brings a sense of humor and equality to her exchanges with her co-stars. In fact, the pure wattage of her star power almost completely eradicates them from the proceedings, making one long for a redo wherein the roles she was given actually reflected the gloriousness of her too often overlooked personality.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!