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The Emperor Jones (1933)

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


, (uncredited)


(play), (screenplay) (as Du-Bose Heyward)

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Complete credited cast:
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

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




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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?


Film debut (uncredited, in a crowd scene) of Billie Holiday. See more »


Brutus Jones: Ain't talking big what makes a man big, s'long as he makes folks believe it?
See more »


Version of The Emperor Jones (1955) See more »


I'm Travelin'
Composer unknown
Sung by Paul Robeson as a stoker on ship
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User Reviews

Paul Robeson's Triumph
27 October 2003 | by (Forest Ranch, CA) – See all my reviews

By murder & guile, a black Pullman conductor becomes THE EMPEROR JONES on an impoverished Caribbean isle.

Eugene O'Neill's allegorical fable comes alive in this unique and intriguing film, recently restored by the Library of Congress. The legendary Paul Robeson dominates the film as a man who abandons his wife & Baptist upbringing to worship himself, wallowing gleefully in sin & violence as long as it furthers his goal for power & riches - the chance to become an emperor of his own tiny domain is merely the latest opportunity in a serendipitous sequence to be exploited.

Robeson's athletic physique, magnificent singing voice, accomplished acting skills and over-sized personality make him the ideal choice for the complex role. Whether leading chained prisoners in song, using brains & bravado to seize his little kingdom, or slyly peering at himself in a succession of mirrors as he enters his throne room in full military regalia, Robeson is never less than fully entertaining.

Fredi Washington shines in her small role as Robeson's faithful wife. Dudley Digges is appropriately unsavory as the white trader with whom Robeson must do business in order to keep his throne.

Movie mavens will recognize a young Moms Mabley as the owner of a New York City nightclub; an even younger Harold Nicholas (of the Nicholas Brothers) as a boy tap dancer & the wonderful Rex Ingram as Robeson's Court Crier - all uncredited.

This film should be considered as a product of its times; it makes no pretensions towards political correctness.


O'Neill's play is obviously based on the historical Henri Christophe (1767-1820), the former slave who, after being involved in the bloody revolution against the French and the assassination of his predecessor, became president of northern Haiti in 1807 and its self-proclaimed king in 1811. Despotic & brilliant, King Henri enjoyed a reign of enormous brutality and opulence. He built for himself 6 châteaux, 8 palaces and the massive Citadelle Laferrière, still considered one of the wonders of the age. Christophe supported himself with a fabricated nobility consisting of 4 princes, 8 dukes, 22 counts, 37 barons & 14 knights. After a paralytic stroke left him disabled, the people rose in revolt and Christophe‘s followers fled. Naturally reluctant to face the wrath of his former subjects, Christophe shot himself with a silver bullet.

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