This movie begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral, so one would expect it to be a tragedy. In fact, it is uplifting and exciting. This is actually an extraordinary portrayal of Harlem around the 1930's. It is the richest and most interesting portrayal of life recorded in that period. After watching hundreds of films where Afro-Americans are limited to cameo roles as smiling, dancing servants, it is exciting to see them portraying three dimensional people. Only King Vidor's "Cabin in the Sky" matches it for intensity and realism.
This film was shot in four days on an $8,000 budget by the cinema genius director, "King of the B's" Edgar Ulmer. It unfortunately has technical problems in the first reel, on the Platinum DVD, I watched. It was difficult to understand the dialog over the noisy soundtrack for about five minutes. However, the soundtrack improves quite significantly and the problem soon disappears.
The plot of the film is a political reformer (read "communist" in the subtext) fighting against a hoodlum who has been running an insurance=protection racket. This could have been totally stereotyped in lesser hands, but Ulmer and his screenwriter wife, Shirley, has been able to make both characters believable and interesting. The reformer really does love Harlem and really does want to unite black people. Even the gangster responds to this idea of unity, refusing to go along with the white gangsters who actually control crime in Harlem.
A couple of other amazing things about this film: it contains perhaps the first inter-racial romance and almost kiss (there is a cut just before the lips touch) and their is an incestuous sub-plot about a step-father lusting after his step-daughter.
This is a unique film and anybody who wants to see what the Golden age of Hollywood might have been like if it wasn't so racist should see it.
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