|Index||10 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**SOME SPOILERS** The film "Go Down Death" is based on a touching and
powerful poem, thats been used mostly as a funeral sermon, by early
20th Century African-Amercan educator and civil rights activist James
Weldon Johnson who died tragically, just nine days after his 67th
birthday, on June 26, 1938 in Wiscasset Maine when the car he was
driving was hit by a train.
Young handsome and spellbinding new Baptist Minister Reverend Jasper Rose has been packing them into his Mt. Zion Church and turning his congregation away from a life of vice and sin. This is really hurting the Red Rooster's owner Big Jim Bottoms' bottom line. Big Jim together with one of his henchmen plans to get the goods on the righteous Rev.Jasper by getting him into a compromising positing with a number of his bar or fly girls by them getting Rev.Jasper all alone with them.
The girls, Mable Minnie and May, go to the Mt. Zion Church to talk to Rev.Jasper about the words of wisdom in the New Testament and about becoming members of his church. Getting Jasper alone in Big Jim's house, to be enlighten by him and his interpretation of the holy Bible, the girls pull out a bottle of wine. Filling a number of wine glasses, hidden in their coats,the girls start drinking it as well as pulling up their dresses and showing a lot of skin, as well as kissing the shocked and startled Reverend! Big Jim and one of his hoods pop up out of the closet and photograph the whole sleazy,and staged, scene.
Totally taken by surprise Rev. Jasper is willing to resign as Mt. Zions Reverend to avoid a scandal but mother Carrie, Big Jim's step-mother, who unknowing to Big Jim saw the whole seedy performance talks him out of it saying that the Lord will vindicate him and punish those, Big Jim & Co.,who are trying to destroy his ministry and keep Rev. Jasper from saving sinners souls. Big Jim now feeling that he got the "goods" on the good Reverend Jasper later puts the developed and printed photo's away in his safe planning to release them to the Mt. Zion church goers to show what a fake and phony that their beloved Rev. Jasper really is. what Big Jim didn't count on it that someone was watching and saw what he did and that someone will see to it that he pays for his low down and sordid act and pays for it in full.
Mother Carrie and her late husband Joe had brought up Big Jim since his parents were killed in a tornado when he was just four months old. Now he turned his back on her when she pleaded with him to stop his plan to destroy the Reverend Jasper as well as his fiancée Mother Carrie's daughter Betty-Jane.
Praying to God Mother Carrie gets an answer from her late and beloved husband Joe who comes to her as a Guardian Angel from heaven and opens up the safe where Big Jim put the incriminating photos. Big Jim getting home from partying and boozing finds the safe opened, and the photos missing, and sees Mother Carrie hiding behind a door. After struggling with Mother Carrie to get the photos back she falls on the ground cracking her skull. With Mother Carrie bedridden Big Jim begins to realizes what a rat and lowlife he really is and forgets about the photos he has to destroy Reverend Jasper's reputation. It's when Mother Carrie succumbs to her injuries that Big Jim's conscience starts to get to him driving him insane. Gulit-ridden and almost suicidal the tormented Bg Jim starts running like a madman into the wilds where, after having revealed to him his ultimate fate, dies of exposure.
Earlier at the Mt. Zion church, that's filled to capacity, the right Reverend Jasper gives a heart-felt and touching sermon at Mother Carrie's funeral telling the congregation, where Big Jim was in attendance, that Mother Carrie is in good hands and to weep no more for her death but to celebrate her kind and caring life.It was Reverend Jaspers sermon that really hit home and got to Big Jim and got him to think about what he did in trying to destroy Jasper's ministry and In the end destroying Mother Carrie's life that drove him to his death.
In reviewing movies featuring people of color in chronological order for Black History Month, we're now at 1944 when director/actor Spencer Williams made this parable about the dangers of deliberately falsifying a scandal of a decent preacher in order to keep one's bar in business. The man of the cloth is played by real-life reverend Samuel H. James as Jasper with Williams as the bar owner. I'll just now say that while the whole thing can be a bit heavy handed and perhaps in-your-face, the intentions were heartfelt and still effective. One has to admit, though, those "fly chicks" that attempted to tease Jasper were fine especially the one that showed some leg! And those images of Hell can be a little haunting. If there's some demerits, it's that the acting and film stock are very amateurish. Still, it's the intention that counts. So on that note, Go Down, Death! is worth a look. P.S. The forward at the beginning acknowledges the poem the title is based on by James Weldon Johnson who was born in Jacksonville, FL, which is where I once lived from 1987-2003.
I don't know if watching these early "sepia" films changed my life, but I certainly look at the USA differently now that I've seen a few of them. A note: Spencer Williams didn't play the preacher, as I said in the earlier review. I'd have to see it again to be sure, but I think he played the murderer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Moralistic tale of a saloon owner who tries to frame the preacher he is
feuding with by having him photographed in a compromising position. The
picture is taken but the saloon owners mother sees that the preacher is
set up and takes steps to prevent the pictures from being used. Tragedy
Made on a shoe string and with a minimal amount of skill and technical ability (owing completely to the budget) this is an okay movie. Its more akin to a Sunday sermon than to a real movie with the object to teach a moral lesson. The problem with the movie is not that it is bad rather that time has not been kind to it and it comes off as very dated. As a snapshot of times gone by its an interesting hours entertainment, however I doubt it would be something I would ever return to.
Go Down, Death! (1944)
** (out of 4)
Spencer Williams' fourth feature as producer and director is a step up from The Blood of Jesus. In this film, a new preacher (Samuel H. James) moves to a small Southern town where he tries to teach the black folks about God. By doing this, people stop going to a local bar, which doesn't sit well with the owner (Williams). The bar owner then sets the preacher up by taking a picture of his with three women hoping this will ruin his reputation. The story here, like the above film, is pretty interesting and makes for a good drama, although the film is still hampered by some poor acting. Williams gives a good performance and is certainly the highlight of the film.
As an ex-history teacher, I understand why this film was so horrible.
Black Americans were usually not allowed in White theaters in the US
and many of the Hollywood films never made it to Black theaters. In
addition, Black audiences didn't want to see films where there were
either no Blacks or the only ones you did see were the sad
stereotypical images--maids, butlers or the lazy Stepin Fetchit types.
So I do understand why films like "Go Down, Death!" was made. I also
know that there just wasn't much economic power in the community--so
they couldn't afford to make big budget films. However, even in this
context, you can't objectively say this is a good film. In other words,
you may understand why it's so bad, but it's still very bad.
Cringe-inducing bad, in fact.
The story is a very, very non-subtle religious film--sort of like a Tyler Perry film but with horrible production values. I like the idea of combining the strong religious values of the Black community with a contemporary story. It's just that the film is terrible...even for a 1940s Black-produced film. The story is about a disreputable gambler who has set out to destroy the preacher. His plan appears to be working--until it backfires and results in God's judgment on this wicked man. Here are a few reasons I disliked it: 1. At least 1/3 to 1/2 of the movie consists of the preacher preaching and the choir singing. This killed the film dramatically. It should have been much shorter--because the way it dominated the film ruined the drama.
2. The acting quite bad--even for Spencer Williams--who usually was a lot better. I've seen him in several other films of the day (before he gained fame playing Andy on "Amos 'n Andy" and he was good. Here, he isn't believable...and considering he also directed the film, he has no one else to blame.
3. The entire story is obvious and amateurish. The writing seems very, very poor and the dialog is bad.
Yet, despite it being a terrible film in almost every way, I don't say it has no value. As a record of the Black American experience of the era, it's invaluable. But, as entertainment, it's awful.
Made in the good ole bygone days when black people had their own
Such a lovely uplifting tale that you'd never see today.
This was made at a time when black movies featured life lessons and role models.
Sadly, they are all gone in favor of exploitation.
A bar owner attempts to discredit the new preacher with whom he is feuding by framing him with a photograph showing him drinking with women with bad reputations.
The bar owner's adoptive mother, a member of the minister's church, supports the preacher and gets the photographic prints. When the bar owner struggles with his mother for the prints, he accidentally kills her.
After the preacher's funeral sermon, the bar owner's conscience drives him to his death.
had to watch it for history of film class.... i understand why because of the racism in the the 30s and 40s and lack of African Americans in cinema... but M. Night Shalalalalaman and Branden Frasier couldn't make this film worse The audio is bad due to lack of funds, and the editing is riddled with jump cuts and i think it would have been a lot better and the acting and script understood more if it had been performed by third graders..there really is nothing beneficial one can get out of this film. except to understand that African Americans were basically shut out of Hollywood and forced to make mega ultra extreme low budget movies
Like Spencer Williams's other religious films, this is crudely filmed on a shoestring budget. There are two most interesting elements, however. First, Spencer Williams portrays a serious villain, which is rare; he usually stuck to comic roles. Second, the minister's funeral sermon, which is intended to be the dramatic highlight, is based on the poem "Go Down Death" by James Weldon Johnson.
Very inexpensive movie made by Spencer Williams of Amos and Andy. Entirely post-dubbed, superficially moralistic, with Williams portraying a preacher who is mobbed by female parishoners. The last five minutes feature the villain's surrealistic trip to hell that smacks of Dali, Ed Wood, Catholic iconography and other medieval influences. Unforgettably weird.
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