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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




Passed | See all certifications »




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 jungle scenes were originally to be shot in the swamps of the American South, but when Paul Robeson signed for the film, he had a clause inserted in his contract that specifically prohibited filming in the South, due to that area's violent racist history and strict racial segregation. The scenes were filmed on a studio set in Astoria, Queens, New York. See more »


Brutus Jones: They's some things I don't got to be told. I can see 'em in folks' eyes.
See more »


Featured in Ethnic Notions (1986) See more »


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

Good Leading Performance Makes Up for Ludicrous Plot
23 July 2001 | by (Ohio) – See all my reviews

A good lead performance by Paul Robeson makes "The Emperor Jones" worth watching despite a lack of any other outstanding characteristics. The plot, which can be blamed on playwright Eugene O'Neill, is ludicrously bad, managing to have a complete lack of credibility while being overly melodramatic at the same time. And yet it affords Robeson a chance to show what he can do with a difficult character.

The basic idea is that Brutus Jones, by a very improbable chain of events, goes from being a railway porter to a convict to the 'emperor' of a Caribbean island. The production is mediocre, and most of the other characters are routine, although the cast is fairly good under the circumstances. Robeson keeps it from falling apart by being convincing in the many different stages of his character's life - he shows quite a range of acting abilities in a short film.

And he is basically the only reason to watch. The talented Robeson apparently never had many chances at really good roles (whether that was because of his race, or for some other reason), and it's too bad that he never got the chance to show what he could do in a quality film, since he does quite a good job here without much to work with.

15 of 24 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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