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
About a half-hour of completely original material was added to the movie adaptation in order to give the main character, Brutus Jones, a more detailed backstory, leaving only about 45 minutes from Eugene O'Neill's play. See more »
Oddly, the O'Neill Climax Is Not As Effective As Heyward's Prologue
Not a great deal of the O'Neill play is retained in this adaptation, and I thought that climax was the least effective portion of the film despite its tinted visuals and stereo sound effects. The preceding 45 minutes, enhanced by Robeson's virile presence and his superlative singing, were much more impressive. Just about every scene took place at night where Haller's noirish photography contributed to the fascinating atmosphere.
Once we arrive on the island, however, and are confronted by Dudley Digges as a stage Cockney and other theatrical contrivances, the narrative's admirably headlong pace not only slows down considerably, but the movie itself starts to fall apartalthough we still have some great moments as the vain Jones takes over the kingship and attempts to bleed the natives white.
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