Unscrupulously ambitious Brutus Jones escapes from jail after killing a guard and through bluff and bravado finds himself the emperor of a Caribbean island.Unscrupulously ambitious Brutus Jones escapes from jail after killing a guard and through bluff and bravado finds himself the emperor of a Caribbean island.Unscrupulously ambitious Brutus Jones escapes from jail after killing a guard and through bluff and bravado finds himself the emperor of a Caribbean island.
Brutus Jones is a tremendous step forward in American dramaturgy because he is the central figure. Than said O'Neill's play still maintains stereotyping. Brutus is a porter on a train, who frequently plays craps, and who has an argument with his friend Jeff and kills him in a fight with razors. He flees to a foreign island, and he soon discovers that he has leadership qualities there that enable him to set up a monarchy there with himself as Emperor. He even sets up a court with uniformed courtiers. But the moment he gives orders to destroy a village for not showing proper deference to him, his reign begins to fall apart. And soon from being Emperor he becomes a hunted animal.
The stereotyping continues, with Brutus slowly losing his bearings and balance due to the incessant drums beating in the forest surrounding him. He hallucinates and sees the ghost of Jeff. He has always spread the word of his invincibility by saying only silver bullets could kill him. So his pursuers melt silver down to make the bullets they use to hunt him down and kill him.
As was pointed out on another discussion of the film on this thread, O'Neill based the fall of Jones on that of Haitian Emperor Henri I (Henri Christophe), except that he committed suicide with a silver bullet when he was about to be captured and executed.
The play was successful, and would be one of the first triumphs in Paul Robeson's career. He did not originate the role (as he did not originate the role of Joe in the stage production of SHOWBOAT). But he became identified with the role - to the point that he made this independent, somewhat defective production of the film in 1933. Except for Dudley Digges, as the one white man in Jones' kingdom (and Jones' occasional intimate), the cast is pretty forgettable. But it is watching Robeson in his one major lead role that holds our attention. He is a commanding figure in the film and fits the role of a man who loses his throne and power and sanity and life in one evil night. Still, one really wishes that the film's production values could have been better - some of the special effects (the appearance of the ghost of Jeff for example) are quite weak.
With it's defects it is a measure of watching Robeson at his best that I'd rate it a "7" out of "10".
- Oct 20, 2005