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The Emperor Jones (1933)

Passed  |   |  Drama  |  29 September 1933 (USA)
6.5
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Ratings: 6.5/10 from 604 users  
Reviews: 17 user | 19 critic

Unscrupulously ambitious Brutus Jones escapes from jail after killing a guard and through bluff and bravado finds himself the emperor of a Caribbean island.

Directors:

, (uncredited)

Writers:

(play), (screenplay) (as Du-Bose Heyward) , 1 more credit »
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Title: The Emperor Jones (1933)

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Dudley Digges ...
Frank H. Wilson ...
Jeff (as Frank Wilson)
Fredi Washington ...
Ruby Elzy ...
Dolly
George Haymid Stamper ...
Lem (as George Stamper)
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Storyline

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

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

29 September 1933 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El emperador Jones  »

Box Office

Budget:

$250,000 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (2003 restored) | (original)

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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 »

Quotes

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

Connections

Featured in Brother Can You Spare a Dime (1975) See more »

Soundtracks

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

 
Worth Watching For Paul Robeson's Performance
25 October 2010 | by (Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada) – See all my reviews

Paul Robeson was a very fine early black actor whose career was rather limited because he generally refused the types of servile and undignified roles that tended to be the lot of black actors in the 30's and 40's (not to mention the fact that he developed some associations that led him - rightly or wrongly - to be associated with the communist movement and further limited his career potential.) In this adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's famous play "The Emperor Jones," Robeson plays Brutus Jones, a man in prison in the United States, who escapes and finds his way to a lonely Caribbean island, where he succeeds in setting himself up as dictator, and an increasingly brutal one, more interested in his own power and glory than in the well-being of his "subjects." Robeson's portrayal of Jones was quite convincing, particularly in the latter few scenes of the movie as he shows Jones losing touch with reality as he races through the jungle, trying to escape from his former subjects who are now in revolt.

Robeson's performance aside, though, I found this to be an unfortunate disappointment. The first problem was that the version I watched had some issues - particularly in the quality of the sound. It was often difficult to make out some of the dialogue. The story also seemed to move too rapidly through events. There wasn't sufficient development of the plot, which often was disconcerting as one tried to find some logic to the course of events.

I first became familiar with O'Neill's play way back in high school. Some of the adaptations made in transferring this to the screen didn't work well. In particular, there's far less emphasis in the movie on Jones' race through the jungle (which is, as I noted, the highlight of the movie) than there is in the play. O'Neill might not be overly pleased with this particular adaptation of his work. For Robeson's performance alone, though, this is definitely worth watching, even if it isn't great.


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