Black History Month-The Forgotten Cinema

by horn-5 | created - 21 Feb 2014 | updated - 23 Feb 2014 | Public

Once upon a time, shamefully in the not-too-distant past, African-Americans were barred from many of the movie theatres(12,000 to 19,000 depending on the years) in America circa the silent-film-era inro the 1950s. And, if not barred, still faced seating in segregated sections (parts of the balcony) or attending on designated "Negro Nights." To offset that, most cities of 25,000 or more had Negro Theatres in their other-side-of-the- tracks area. That also inspired the making of *race movies* or all-black-cast films. A large percentage oif those were produced by black-owned companies such as Oscar Micheaux Productions or The Normandy Film Mfg.Company, but even more came from white-owned Poverty Row companies. Many of the all-black films featured the same stereotyped-racist roles as those that black performers were relegated to in the main-stream films from Hollywood. But they also provided the African-American community to see black actors perform roles other than Mammies and Feet-do-your-stuff.

This is a list of all-black-cast films (there were hundreds of those) made specifically for "Black" theatres. Assuming that only a small percentage have ever seen even one of these films...

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Which film, based on plot and cast, would you put on your like-to-see list?

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1. Moon Over Harlem (1939)

Not Rated | 69 min | Crime, Drama, Romance

Musical numbers highlight this story of a wealthy widow who disowns her daughter after a new man enters her life.

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer | Stars: Buddy Harris, Cora Green, Izinetta Wilcox, Earl Gough

Votes: 149

Gangster marries world's kindest, most charitable woman, scams money from her while coming on to her daughter. When gangster is caught by his wife attempting to rape the daughter, he lies and blames the girl. Driven from her mother's home, the girl turns to show business to make a living. (Directed by cult-favorite Edgar G. Ulmer and, aside from the cast, mostly an all-white production crew.)

2. Harlem Rides the Range (1939)

56 min | Western

A cowboy and his sidekick try to help a homesteader from being cheated out of his property.

Director: Richard C. Kahn | Stars: Herb Jeffries, Lucius Brooks, F.E. Miller, Artie Young

Votes: 118

“ "Me and him's buddies, and when you suspicions him, you suspicions me". (Two black writers and an all-white Poverty Row production crew)

3. Gang War (1940)

Approved | 63 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

Two mobs fight for control of the jukebox racket.

Director: Leo C. Popkin | Stars: Ralph Cooper, Gladys Snyder, Reginald Fenderson, Laurence Criner

Votes: 86

Another all-black-cast from the all-white Million Dollar Productions.

4. The Bronze Buckaroo (1939)

Approved | 58 min | Action, Adventure, Music

Bob Blake and his boys arrive at Joe Jackson's ranch to find him missing. While Slim cheats Dusty out of his money using ventriloquism and marked cards, Blake tries to find Jackson. ... See full summary »

Director: Richard C. Kahn | Stars: Herb Jeffries, Lucius Brooks, Artie Young, F.E. Miller

Votes: 134

Herbert Jeffrey(Herb Jeffries) rides again in yet another all-black-cast remake of an all-white Fred Scott B-western from producer Jed Buell.

5. Spirit of Youth (1938)

Approved | 66 min | Biography, Drama, Sport

The story of the rise of boxer Joe Thomas, which paralleled the life of Joe Louis.

Director: Harry L. Fraser | Stars: Joe Louis, Clarence Muse, Edna Mae Harris, Mae Turner

Votes: 108

Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis, in his prime, gives the black community a hero of their own. If they could find a theatre to watch it in.

6. Mystery in Swing (1940)

Passed | 76 min | Action, Adventure, Music

In and around some great blues, swing and jazz music, a very unpopular band-leader. Prince Ellis, is killed in a Harlem nightclub, and, in and around some more great music, a detective ... See full summary »

Director: Arthur Dreifuss | Stars: Monte Hawley, Marguerite Whitten, Tommie Moore, Edward Thompson

Votes: 65

With a 100 Per Cent ALL-STAR COLORED CAST! (original poster)...(produced by a 100% all-white production company)

7. Paradise in Harlem (1939)

85 min | Comedy, Drama, Musical

Between swing and blues musical numbers, the story of comedian Lem Anderson, whose long-awaited chance to act dramatically vanishes when he witnesses a mob killing and is forced to leave ... See full summary »

Director: Joseph Seiden | Stars: Frank H. Wilson, Mamie Smith, Norman Astwood, Edna Mae Harris

Votes: 84

(Subjective) Tagline: Greatest Colored Cast Ever Assembled in One Picture

8. Lady Luck (1942)

Approved | 61 min | Comedy, Thriller

Two down-on-their luck friends suddenly hit the "jackpot" when they win the clothes, car and chauffeur of a rich man in a game of dice. They wind up in a sanitarium that's being used as an ... See full summary »

Director: William Beaudine | Stars: Mantan Moreland, F.E. Miller, Maceo Bruce Sheffield, Arthur Ray

Votes: 103

The comedy team of Moreland & Miller(Mantan Moreland and F. E. Miller) could give Abbott & Costello lessons in comedic timing.

9. Murder with Music (1941)

Not Rated | 59 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

The beautiful Nellie Hill has many admirers but when one of them gets killed all the others are suspected. All this in among some great singing and dancing, some great bands and songs. This... See full summary »

Director: George P. Quigley | Stars: Bob Howard, Milton Williams, Nellie Hill, George Oliver

Votes: 53

I'll wash and dry your dishes. I'll clean and make your bed. I'll work and slave around you 'Til my face turns cherry red.

10. Dark Manhattan (1937)

Approved | 70 min | Crime, Drama

A low-level gangster determines to let nothing stand in the way of his gaining control of the numbers rackets in Harlem.

Directors: Harry L. Fraser, Ralph Cooper | Stars: Ralph Cooper, Cleo Herndon, Clarence Brooks, Jess Lee Brooks

Votes: 38

An early film for Roy Glenn, whose roles were usualy an uncredited Native Chief in Jungle Jim films, thirty years later played a very-credited role, as Sidney Poitier's father in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." And held his own at the table with Tracy and Hepburn.

11. The Black King (1932)

72 min | Comedy, Drama, Music

An unscrupulous minister starts a 'back to Africa' movement.

Director: Bud Pollard | Stars: A.B. DeComathiere, Vivianne Baber, Knolly Mitchell, Dan Michaels

Votes: 29

The film is based on the career of Marcus Garvey, who organized a Back-to- Africa movement among blacks in the United States, and is not an "All-Black-Cast" film, as there are white actors, including the director/producer Bud Pollard, playing some minor, uncredited roles. Deacon "Charcoal" Johnson is heading a Back-to-Africa group and raising funds (to his pockets, mostly) all the way from Logan, Mississippi to New York City's Harlem, where a procession of Johnson's followers and elite troops parade to the music of Victor Herbert's "March of the Wooden Soldiers."

  • Written by Les Adams <>

12. Son of Ingagi (1940)

Passed | 70 min | Horror

A newlywed couple is visited by a strange old woman who harbors a secret about the young girl's father.

Director: Richard C. Kahn | Stars: Zack Williams, Laura Bowman, Alfred Grant, Daisy Bufford

Votes: 171

13. Swing! (1938)

69 min | Musical, Drama

Ted Gregory is trying to be the first black producer to mount a show on Broadway, but he has trouble with his star singer.

Director: Oscar Micheaux | Stars: Cora Green, Larry Seymour, Hazel Diaz, Alec Lovejoy

Votes: 124

A low-budget *race film* version of "42nd Street" featuring some of the Cotton Club and Appolo Theatre acts of the period.

14. The Girl from Chicago (1932)

70 min | Crime, Drama

An undercover government agent on a case in Mississipi meets and falls in love with a beautiful young woman who's being menaced by a local crime boss. He rescues the girl, and they leave ... See full summary »

Director: Oscar Micheaux | Stars: Grace Smith, Carl Mahon, Eunice Brooks, Starr Calloway

Votes: 102

Film debut of Juano Hernandez.

15. The Flying Ace (1926)

65 min | Adventure, Crime, War

A veteran World War I fighter pilot returns home a war hero and immediately regains his former job as a railroad company detective. His first case: recover a stolen satchel filled with ... See full summary »

Director: Richard E. Norman | Stars: Laurence Criner, Kathryn Boyd, Boise De Legge, Harold Platts

Votes: 74

The character of Ruth Sawtelle is allegedly based on African American aviatrix Bessie Coleman, the first African American person to hold an international pilot's license.

One of only two Ethel Waters films from her cabaret-days, in Harlem, with a plot that may have served for the 1940 Broadway musical "Cabin in the Sky", later made as an all-black cast feature film by MGM in 1943. The latter was not a film made for the black-community theatres.

17. Reet, Petite, and Gone (1947)

67 min | Musical

Old-time musical star Schyler Jarvis, now wealthy, is dying; his last act is a visionary plan for the future happiness of his son, swing bandleader Louis Jarvis, and Honey Carter, daughter ... See full summary »

Director: William Forest Crouch | Stars: Louis Jordan, June Richmond, Milton Woods, Bea Griffith

Votes: 83

Rusty: But you could learn to love me, darling.

Louis Jarvis: I can't afford the lesson!

18. The Devil's Daughter (1939)

Approved | 52 min | Drama, Horror

Sylvia Walton returns from Harlem to take over a Jamaican plantation from her vindictive half-sister, amid the growing sound of drums.

Director: Arthur H. Leonard | Stars: Nina Mae McKinney, Jack Carter, Ida James, Hamtree Harrington

Votes: 235


19. Double Deal (1939)

Approved | 60 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

Tommy McCoy and "Dude" Markey are both in love with Harlem singer/dancer Nita. Markey robs a jewelry store and turns the loot over to gang-boss Murray Howard. Later, Markey robs the safe, ... See full summary »

Director: Arthur Dreifuss | Stars: Monte Hawley, Jeni Le Gon, Edward Thompson, Florence O'Brien

Votes: 26

20. Murder on Lenox Avenue (1941)

Not Rated | 65 min | Drama

Dramatic events in a Harlem apartment house center around Pa Wilkins, chosen by the Better Business League to replace their ousted, crooked leader Marshall...who wants revenge; and Pa's ... See full summary »

Director: Arthur Dreifuss | Stars: Mamie Smith, Alec Lovejoy, Norman Astwood, Augustus Smith

Votes: 45

Features two of the greatest Black Cinema singers, Mamie Smith and Edna Mae Harris.

Edna Mae Harris and Mamie Smith sing again but, alas, only for a very small audience.

22. Lying Lips (1939)

Not Rated | 80 min | Drama, Music

A nightclub singer refuses to "date" customers, so she's framed for the murder of her aunt, convicted of the killing and sent to prison. However, her friend, who is a police detective, ... See full summary »

Director: Oscar Micheaux | Stars: Edna Mae Harris, Carman Newsome, Robert Earl Jones, Frances E. Williams

Votes: 101

Features Edna Mae Harris and Robert Earl Jones (father of James Earl Jones).

23. Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934)

62 min | Horror

A black voodoo priestess comes out of the Louisians swamps to take revenge on the white plantation owner she believes killed her husband.

Director: Marshall Neilan | Stars: Olive Borden, Reed Howes, Molly O'Day, Francis Joyner

Votes: 199

A bottom-of-the-barrel, poverty row, mixed-cast film that got more play in *black theatres* than in those it was intended for...

24. Juke Joint (1947)

Not Rated | 68 min | Comedy, Drama

Two insolvent con men get involved in a small town beauty contest.

Director: Spencer Williams | Stars: Spencer Williams, July Jones, Inez Newell, Leonard Duncan

Votes: 61

The Joint is Jumpin'! / The Jive is Jivvin'! / The Jam is Jammin'! / Everybody's High in the Happy Slap-Happy Holiday Family!

25. Souls of Sin (1949)

Not Rated | 64 min | Drama

Unsuccessful gambler 'Dollar Bill' Burton lives in a crummy New York basement room with old friend Bob and a new roommate, friendly blues singer 'Alabama' Lee. But, tired of being broke, ... See full summary »

Director: Powell Lindsay | Stars: Savannah Churchill, Jimmy Wright, Billie Allen, William Greaves

Votes: 16

Guns Bark As Rival Gangs Fight For Power!

26. Go Down, Death! (1945)

56 min | Drama

The owner of a juke joint arranges to frame an innocent preacher with a scandalous photograph, but his scheme backfires when his own adoptive mother interferes.

Director: Spencer Williams | Stars: Myra D. Hemmings, Samuel H. James, Eddye L. Houston, Spencer Williams

Votes: 98

Actor/director/writer Spencer Williams , on a nothing budget, displays a talent that, shamefully, never got beyond the segregation barrier.

27. The Notorious Elinor Lee (1940)

107 min | Drama

Gangsters use a woman to get to a boxer and convince him to throw a big fight.

Director: Oscar Micheaux | Stars: Gladys Williams, Robert Earl Jones, Carman Newsome, Edna Mae Harris

Votes: 5

Robert Earl Jones in one of the best of the *race movies*.

28. The Girl in Room 20 (1946)

63 min | Drama

A rural girl comes to the big city to pursue a singing career, and is befriended by paternal cab drivers and down-and-out show troupers, and preyed upon by an adulterous pimp.

Director: Spencer Williams | Stars: Geraldine Brock, Spencer Williams, R. Jore, E. Celese Allen

Votes: 30

A girl from Texas goes to New York City with hopes of joining the choir of an all-black Baptist church. but becomes a call-girl for Madam Mamie in Harlem.

29. Hi De Ho (1947)

PG | 72 min | Musical

Cab Calloway plays himself in a plot about jealousy, night clubs, and gangsters. Ends with a series of musical numbers.

Director: Josh Binney | Stars: Cab Calloway, Ida James, Jeni Le Gon, William Campbell

Votes: 190

Cab Calloway's spurned girlfriend seeks revenge.

30. The Duke Is Tops (1938)

Approved | 73 min | Musical

A theatrical producer puts aside his own success to boost the career of a talented singer.

Directors: William L. Nolte, Ralph Cooper | Stars: Ralph Cooper, Lena Horne, Laurence Criner, Monte Hawley

Votes: 271

A Lena Horne showcase, or as much as could be done on a low-budget *racefilm.*

31. Look-Out Sister (1947)

Approved | 63 min | Music, Western

A famous bandleader, suffering from overwork and exhaustion, goes to a sanitarium for a rest. While there he dreams of being out west at a dude ranch, where he finds himself involved in the... See full summary »

Director: Bud Pollard | Stars: Louis Jordan, Suzette Harbin, Monte Hawley, Bob Scott

Votes: 29

When he's not singin', he's shootin'. When he's not shootin', he's lovin'!

32. Midnight Shadow (1939)

Approved | 54 min | Mystery

In a quiet, all-black Oklahoma community live the Wilsons, whose pretty daughter Margaret is courted by awkward Buster and suave stage mentalist Prince Alihabad. On one busy night, Mr. ... See full summary »

Director: George Randol | Stars: Frances Redd, Buck Woods, Richard Bates, Ollie Ann Robinson

Votes: 153

A correspondence-school detective on the trail of a killer.

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