Giving this movie a 10 is like buying a Dior dress for a pig!
HARLEM ON THE PRAIRIE is an interesting film since few today realize that in America in the 1920s, 30s and 40s there was a small Black film industry that made films for Black-only theaters. Unfortunately, Hollywood had no interest in making films for Black Americans and Blacks were also not allowed in many municipalities to enter White movie theaters. To make things worse, the Black-owned theaters often had a hard time getting Hollywood films as they were the last theaters to receive Hollywood films. So, because of availability problems and the Black audience's desire to see Black actors, hundreds (if not thousands) of low-budget Black films were made for this niche market. Today it is very, very rare to see these films on TV and the last time any serious effort was made to make them available to the public was in the 1980s when the BET network showed them regularly. So at least historically speaking this is an important film and one that might have some interest despite its cheap production values.
The style of HARLEM ON THE PRAIRIE is much like that of its contemporary White B-Westerns. Here, the very light-skinned and tall Herb Jeffries plays a character much like Gene Autry, Tex Ritter or John Wayne in his B days (as either "Singing Sandy" or one of "The Three Mesquiteers"). In fact, the film's plot and structure are all right out of the B-Western play book! The problems are that these Hollywood Westerns are pretty forgettable AND that HARLEM is significantly cheesier and, well, dumber. The acting (apart from Jeffries) is generally terrible and the film seems like it was made by complete amateurs. Plus, the inclusion of Mantan Moreland and dark-skinned villains didn't do much to improve the self-image of Black America.
Now I noticed that there is one other review and they gave the film a 10. Now I usually don't criticize other reviewers, but this seems like a good time to make an exception to my usual rule. As my summary says, giving this film a 10 is like buying a Dior dress for a pig--it's THAT inappropriate since it's such a bad film. While it's not quite as terrible as Harry and Michael Medved say in their book "The Golden Turkey Awards", it sure is poor and is only of interest for its historical value or perhaps to laugh at the ineptness of the project. Heck, even if this was a decent film (which it's not), giving any series B-Western a 10 seems ridiculous.
Amazingly, even though this is a rather dreadful film, Jeffries went on to make several more Westerns. As for his abilities, he was an excellent actor and you wander what sort of career he would have had if prejudice didn't limit his career options. Also, while perhaps hard to believe, last I checked Jeffries is still alive and well--and 97 years old! Good luck Mr. Jeffries--you were a great trailblazer.
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