The Emperor Jones (1933)

Passed  |   |  Drama  |  29 September 1933 (USA)
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Unscrupulously ambitious Brutus Jones escapes from jail after killing a guard and through bluff and bravado finds himself the emperor of a Caribbean island.


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(play), (screenplay) (as Du-Bose Heyward) , 1 more credit »
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Complete credited cast:
Dudley Digges ...
Frank H. Wilson ...
Jeff (as Frank Wilson)
Fredi Washington ...
Ruby Elzy ...
George Haymid Stamper ...
Lem (as George Stamper)


At a Baptist prayer meeting, the preacher leads a prayer for Brutus Jones, who is leaving to become a railway porter. Jones joins the congregation in a spiritual. Once on the train, Jeff, a porter, shows Jones the ropes. Jones secretly takes up with Jeff's girl, Undine. He makes some money in a deal with a rich businessman on the train. Jones proves to be a cunning manipulator and a good liar. In a crap game, Jones stabs Jeff over a pair of loaded dice. Now doing hard labour, Jones kills a white prison guard and escapes. Shovelling coal on a ship in the Caribbean, Jones swims to an island. He is brought before the island's ruler, where Smithers, a crooked white trader, buys his freedom. Jones schemes his way into a partnership in Smithers' business, then finally control of the entire island through a touch of witchcraft, or so it seems. Brutus declares himself to be The Emperor Jones... Smithers reports on the unrest that Jones' rule is causing. One morning, the palace is empty of ... Written by David Steele

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Release Date:

29 September 1933 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El emperador Jones  »

Box Office


$250,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (2003 restored) | (original)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The original Broadway production of "The Emperor Jones" opened at the Neighborhood Playhouse on November 1, 1920 and ran for 204 performances. Between 1925 and 1927 the play was revived three times, once with Paul Robeson who recreated his stage role in this movie version. See more »


Smithers: [Jones prepares to escape into the jungle] Give my regards to any ghosts yer 'appen to meet!
Brutus Jones: [pause] If dat ghost have money, I tells him never to haunt you lessen he wants to lose it!
See more »


Referenced in Black Shadows on the Silver Screen (1975) See more »


Now Let Me Fly
Traditional American spiritual
Sung by the church patrons and Paul Robeson
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User Reviews

An Interesting Failure
12 April 2005 | by (Biloxi, Mississippi) – See all my reviews

Playwright Eugene O'Neill's early work often combined memorable characters and stories with social commentary and innovative theatrical concepts--and among his first great successes was THE EMPEROR JONES, which starred perhaps the single finest black actor of the 1920s and 1930s, the legendary Paul Robeson. When United Artists purchased the screen rights, Robeson went with the package, and this 1933 film was the result.

The story concerns a black man of the depression era who lacks the moral stamina to resist the various temptations set before him, and who ultimately finds himself on a remote island where he uses his superior intellect and physically intimidating presence to set himself up as "Emperor." But his own past troubles have hardened him. Instead of ruling in justice, he uses his position to bleed the population--and they revolt against him.

But regretfully, this film isn't half as good as it could have been or a quarter as good as it should have been. On the stage, THE EMPEROR JONES had tremendous irony, for in so crushing his subjects Brutus Jones has essentially recreated the white American society that crushed him. Moreover, the staging was uniquely powerful, with the vast majority of the story played out as Jones runs through the jungle in an effort to escape his revolting subjects, all the while recalling the various events of his life that led him to the present moment. But the film version pretty much throws all of this out the window, preferring to downplay O'Neill's social commentary and reducing Jone's race through the jungle to a few scenes at the film's conclusion.

Robeson is a memorable actor, but he was still very new to the screen when this film was made, and although he is powerful his performance here is rather stagey in comparison with his later screen work. And while the film is occasionally interesting in a visual way, it simply doesn't have the courage to go all the way with O'Neil's original vision. Fans of Robeson, O'Neil, and early 1930s film will find it an interesting failure, but most others should give it a miss.

Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer

18 of 23 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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