It's an operetta set at a camp for English prisoners being held by the Germans somewhere in the African jungle. There are dozens of native extras, all of them black actors, whose main function in the story is to prostrate themselves toward whichever white lead happens to be singing in the vicinity.
And yes, all of the lead actors are white, a little awkward since many of them are playing natives of the same tribe as the actually black extras. Their skin tones range from burnt cork (Noah Beery) to snow white (the golden Dawn herself). The plot revolves around whether the obviously white Dawn is really black. I can't tell you how it comes out -- that would be a spoiler.
Dawn's mother, a slightly darker shade of makeup, wears earrings and pearls and sort of resembles Margaret Dumont.
Speaking of whom, the male lead is played by Walter Woolf, who, as Walter Woolf King, plays the villain tenor Rodolfo Lassparri in "A Night At The Opera." When this, uh, dawned on me, I actually shouted out, just like Groucho as Otis B. Driftwood, "Lassparri?!?!?!"
This is racism too ridiculous to be objectionable. Instead, like the (intentional) loony racial stereotypes in "Blazing Saddles," it's hysterical.
Noah Beery (brother of Wallace, father of Jr.) plays Shep Keyes, who speaks and sings in an exaggerated stereotypical southern black dialect, full of "gwines" and so on. Is he supposed to be American? African? No idea. Then there's the native second female lead character, apparently (made up to be) African, but doing the same shufflin' accent as Beery. Is it just me, or does she bear a startling resemblance to Andrea Martin?
There are so many little delights, other absurd characters and "comic" subplots, moments to cherish. The Whip song! My Bwana! A Tigah! The final, shocking, revelations! Why are you reading this? Go forth, do whatever it takes to find a copy of this movie, and watch it!
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