In this musical comedy, Paul Robeson stars as Joe, a Marseilles docker hired by a wealthy English couple to find their missing son. When Joe finds him, he learns he escaped of his own will,... See full summary »
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An examination of the life of actor and singer Paul Robeson, from his first major triumphs on the stage in the 1920s through his gradually increasing social activism in the 1930s and 1940s,... See full summary »
Saul J. Turell
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
Fredi Washington's scenes were reshot using dark pancake makeup because she looked "too white" in the first rushes. It was feared audiences would think Paul Robeson was embracing a white woman. See more »
[Jones prepares to escape into the jungle]
Give my regards to any ghosts yer 'appen to meet!
If dat ghost have money, I tells him never to haunt you lessen he wants to lose it!
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Paul Robeson is the whole show in this version of The Emperor Jones
It's Black History Month, so I'm reviewing African-Americans on film in chronological order. It's now 1933 when actor/singer Paul Robeson accepted an offer to reprise his role as Brutus Jones in a film version of Eugene O'Neill's play. His character goes from porter, to convict, to emperor of an island in possibly too quick time during the movie though some of the dialogue does sometimes explain how much time has passed when those transitions occur. No matter, since Robeson is the whole show here and manages to be a very compelling presence whether singing or talking a long streak. And there are many good supporting turns by Frank Wilson as Jeff-a fellow porter who shows Brutus the ropes, Ruby Elzy as Dolly-Jones' first girlfriend at home, Fredi Washington as Undine-Jeff's girl who Brutus steals, and Dudley Digges as Smithers-a white trader Jones eventually partners with. Then there are cameos by the likes of Billie Holiday, Rex Ingram, Moms Mabley, and Harold Nicholas-who as usual dances here-that should provide some extra enjoyment for anyone curious about that sort of thing. While, like I said, transitions may not seem completely natural, this version of The Emperor Jones is worth seeing for Robeson's presence alone.
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