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A minister is malevolent and sinister behind his righteous facade. He consorts with, and later extorts from, the owner of a gambling house, and betrays an honest girl, eventually driving them both to ruin. Written by
Martin H. Booda <email@example.com>
The board censors initially had strong objections to the dark and sinister portrayal of a man of the cloth. But with no money left for reshoots, producer Oscar Micheaux shot a quick ending which makes most of the film's action a dream of the heroine's. See more »
BODY AND SOUL (1925) is the third of Oscar Micheaux's surviving silents, with a cast exclusively comprised of African-American actors. It tells the story of Isaiah Jenkins (Paul Robeson), a phony reverend who preaches to a congregation in a small town in the American South, who is really an escaped convict. The locals look up to him, including Martha Jane (Mercedes Gilbert). Martha tries to push her daughter, Isabelle (Julia Theresa Russell) into marrying the reverend, even though she is already seeing his twin brother Sylvester (also played by Robeson). Isabelle, though, sees that he is not as pious as he appears to be. An incident takes place between Isaiah and Isabelle that drives Isabelle away from home, and Martha Jane is forced to confront an unpleasant truth she never would have imagined...
I felt that this was the best of Micheaux's surviving silent movies. The narrative is straightforward and easy to follow, without being burdened by excess characters or lengthy explanations. As was common with many silents, there are some melodramatic contrivances at times but nothing really insulting. Micheaux's narrative here is well focused and a flashback scene makes the movie more powerful. Paul Robeson is the main standout here, with a very charismatic performance as the fake preacher, alternately charming, intimidating, and aggressive his acting is very expressive. Mercedes Gilbert, a famed black stage actress of the time, also does some nice work as the mother who has to accept that appearances can be deceiving. Some of her gestures and expressions are very much of her time, but she still projects a magnetism and emotional sincerity that makes her work convincing. Julia Theresa Russell is a bit more low-key, quite naturalistic in her portrayal.
Micheaux has some very effective camera-work here, particularly in the flashback scene which conveys disturbing events well with just a minimum of imagery and skillful editing. Not all of the editing here is superb, though there are a few awkwardly staged moments, like a poorly choreographed fight scene and occasional repetition of action. However, despite that, the movie has an abundance of outstanding scenes.
BODY AND SOUL is, in conclusion, an advance over Micheaux's previous silents WITHIN OUR GATES and THE SYMBOL OF THE UNCONQUERED. It succeeds because of a focused, straightforward story, charismatic performances, and skillful production. SCORE: 8/10
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