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Way Down South (1939)

 -  Crime | Music  -  21 July 1939 (USA)
5.5
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Ratings: 5.5/10 from 115 users  
Reviews: 8 user | 3 critic

In the pre-Civil War South, a plantation owner dies and leaves all his possessions, including his slaves, to his young son. While the deceased treated his slaves decently, his corrupt ... See full summary »

Writers:

(original story and screenplay), (original story and screenplay)
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Title: Way Down South (1939)

Way Down South (1939) on IMDb 5.5/10

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Bobby Breen ...
Timothy Reid Jr.
...
Jacques Bouton
...
Timothy Reid Sr.
Steffi Duna ...
Pauline
...
Uncle Caton
Sally Blane ...
Claire Bouton
...
Martin Dill
...
Cass
Robert Greig ...
Judge Ravenal
Lillian Yarbo ...
Janie
Matthew 'Stymie' Beard ...
Gumbo (as Stymie Beard)
Hall Johnson Choir
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Storyline

In the pre-Civil War South, a plantation owner dies and leaves all his possessions, including his slaves, to his young son. While the deceased treated his slaves decently, his corrupt executor abuses them unmercifully, beating them without provocation, and he is planning to sell off the father'e estate--including the slaves--at the earliest opportunity so he and his mistress can steal the money and move to France. The young boy doesn't want to sell his father's estate or break up an of the slave families, and he has to find someone to help him thwart the crooked executor's plans. Written by frankfob2@yahoo.com

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

HELP YOURSELF TO HAPPINESS! HERE'S A WHILE SHOW-FULL! (original poster - all caps)

Genres:

Crime | Music

Certificate:

Approved
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

21 July 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Way Down South  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Victor System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Soundtracks

Peter, Go Ring Dem Bells
(uncredited)
Traditional Negro spiritual
Performed offscreen by the Hall Johnson Choir during the opening credits
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User Reviews

 
In the same year as Gone With The Wind
7 March 2012 | by (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

This small, unpretentious, but very wonderful film from the combined pens of Langston Hughes and actor Clarence Muse is one of the very few films that deals with slavery and from the point of view of the slave. Remarkable also that this came out in the same year as Gone With The Wind which dealt with the lost Confederacy which founded on the notion of keeping slavery alive in North America.

Muse and Hughes also borrowed a great deal from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn in developing the relationship of the young master Bobby Breen and house servant Muse. Breen while still a minor child inherits father Ralph Morgan's plantation and unfortunately an executor in the person of Edwin Maxwell.

Maxwell wants to basically loot the estate, in the meantime he hires a very cruel overseer in Charles Middleton. When Muse does voice some mild objection to new policies instituted, Maxwell says he'll sell him. Breen and Muse make an escape worthy of Huck Finn and Jim and with Muse in drag and a veil they check into a posh New Orleans hotel operated by Alan Mowbray who is a Creole character out of Charles Dickens. Eventually they learn that Maxwell just wants to sell all the slaves and take the profits and run. Of course the slaves who have families don't have any say in the matter. In fact some whippings are dished out by Middleton though we never actually see one.

The Hall Johnson Choir play the plantation slaves and they have several numbers singing Negro spirituals both happy and sad depending on the mood of the film. Breen also sings some songs like Oh Dem Golden Slippers and Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child with the Choir. Also at Mowbray's dinner table Breen sings Stephen Foster's Some Folks Do which was my favorite musical number.

This film should be seen and revived as a great treatise on the slave experience. There is some stereotyping, but it's done in the context of the condition and servitude of the slaves and there is never any demeaning of anyone in this film. And when you've Langston Hughes and Clarence Muse taking some inspiration from such authors and Twain and Dickens you know this film is something special.

A lot of people in this cast from Bobby Breen on down got career roles here. Way Down South should be bought or rented at Amazon, it's a wonderful and moving viewing experience.


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