Lost Boundaries

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Lost Boundaries
Directed by Alfred L. Werker
Produced by Louis De Rochemont
Written by William L. White (story)
Charles Palmer (adaptation)
Eugene Ling
Virginia Shaler
Furland de Kay (add. dialogue)
Starring Beatrice Pearson
Mel Ferrer
Susan Douglas Rubes
Cinematography William Miller
Edited by Dave Kummins
Distributed by Film Classics
Release dates July 2, 1949
Running time 99 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Lost Boundaries (1949) is an American film directed by Alfred L. Werker and stars Beatrice Pearson, Mel Ferrer (in his first starring role), and Susan Douglas Rubes. The film is based on the book by William Lindsay White, relating the true story of Dr. Albert Chandler Johnston, a graduate of Rush Medical College whose family passed for white while living in New Hampshire. The movie won the 1949 Cannes Film Festival award for Best Screenplay.[1]


In 1922, Scott Mason Carter (Mel Ferrer) graduates from Chase Medical School in Chicago. Immediately afterward, Scott and Marcia (Beatrice Pearson), both light-skinned enough to look white, are married. Scott has landed an internship, but his fellow graduate, the dark-skinned Jesse Pridham (Ray Saunders), wonders if he will have to work as a Pullman porter until there is an opening in a black hospital.

In Georgia, the black hospital director tells Scott that the board of directors has decided to give preference to "Southern" applicants, and rescinds the job offer. Marcia insists her husband continue searching for another medical job. In the meantime, they live in Boston with Marcia's parents, who have successfully passed for white. Her father and some of their black friends suggest they do the same. Instead, Scott continues to openly apply as a Negro, only to be rejected time and time again. Scott finally gives in, quits his job making shoes, and masquerades as white for a one-year internship in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

While there, Scott responds to an emergency. At an isolated lighthouse, he has to operate immediately on a sport fisherman who is bleeding to death from a penetrating duodenal ulcer. His patient turns out to be Dr. Walter Bracket (Morton Stevens), a well-known director of a clinic. Impressed, the recovering Dr. Bracket offers him the position of town doctor in Keenham (a fictionalized version of Keene, New Hampshire), replacing Bracket's father, who recently died after 50 years of service. Scott turns down the offer, explaining that he is a Negro. Dr. Bracket, though he admits he would not have made the offer had he known, recommends Scott take the job without revealing his race. With a baby on the way, Scott reluctantly agrees. The child's birth is cause for much worry. To everyone's relief, the boy looks white. When the local rector and his wife welcome the new residents, Marcia tells them her boy will be named after Scott's mentor, Dr. Charles Howard. The rector tells Marcia he met a doctor by that name. However, he assumes it must not be the same one, since that Dr. Howard was black. Scott slowly earns the trust and respect of the residents.

By 1942, when the United States enters World War II, the Carters are pillars of the community. Their son, Howard, attends the University of New Hampshire, while daughter Shelly (Susan Douglas Rubes) is in high school. The Carters have managed to keep their secret, even from their own children. Scott goes to Boston once a week to work at the Charles Howard Clinic, which he and Jesse Pridham established for patients of all races. Howard invites Arthur Cooper (William Greaves), a black classmate, to Keenham. Shelly worries what her friends will think about a "coon" staying in their home. Scott sternly orders her never to use that word again. When Arthur goes to a party with Howard, a few guests make bigoted remarks behind his back.

Howard and Scott both enlist in the Navy. However, Scott's commission as a lieutenant commander is suddenly revoked for "failure to meet physical conditions" after his background is investigated; the only position in the Navy for blacks is as a steward. The Carters have no choice but to finally reveal their secret to their children. Howard breaks up with his white girlfriend and disappears. He roams the streets of Harlem and rents a room there. When Shelly's boyfriend Andy asks her what she is going to do about the "awful rumor" circulating about her family, Shelly confesses that it is true. Her boyfriend asks her to the school dance anyway, but she turns him down. Howard investigates screams coming from a tenement building and finds two black men fighting. When one is knocked down, and the other pulls out a gun, Howard intervenes, and the gun goes off. The gunman flees, but Howard is taken into custody. To a sympathetic black police lieutenant (Canada Lee), Howard explains, "I came here to find out what it's like to be a Negro." Arthur Cooper collects his friend.

Howard goes to his father's clinic. Scott tells him, "I brought you up as white. There's no reason why you shouldn't continue to live that way." They return home. When they go to the church service, the minister preaches a sermon of tolerance, then notes that the Navy has just ended its racist policy. The narrator notes that Scott Carter remains the doctor for a small New Hampshire town.


  • Beatrice Pearson - Marcia Carter
  • Mel Ferrer - Scott Mason Carter
  • Susan Douglas Rubes - Shelly Carter (as Susan Douglas)
  • Robert A. Dunn - Rev. John Taylor (as Rev. Robert A. Dunn)
  • Richard Hylton - Howard "Howie" Carter
  • Grace Coppin - Mrs. Mitchell, Marcia's mother
  • Carleton Carpenter - Andy
  • Seth Arnold - Clint Adams
  • Wendell Holmes - Mr. Morris Mitchell, Marcia's father
  • Parker Fennelly - Alvin Tupper
  • Ralph Riggs - Loren Tucker
  • William Greaves - Arthur "Art" Cooper
  • Ray Saunders - Dr. Jesse Pridham (as Rai Saunders)
  • Leigh Whipper - Janitor
  • Morton Stevens - Dr. Walter Brackett
  • Maurice Ellis - Dr. Cashman
  • Alexander Campbell - Mr. Bigelow
  • Edwin Cooper - Baggage man
  • Royal Beal - Det. Staples
  • Canada Lee - Lt. "Dixie" Thompson


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Lost Boundaries". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-01-09. 

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