11 user 4 critic

The Duke Is Tops (1938)

Approved | | Musical | 1 September 1938 (USA)
A theatrical producer puts aside his own success to boost the career of a talented singer.


William L. Nolte (as William Nolte), Ralph Cooper (uncredited)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Ralph Cooper Ralph Cooper ... Duke Davis
Lena Horne ... Ethel Andrews
Laurence Criner Laurence Criner ... Doc Dorando (as Lawrence Criner)
Monte Hawley Monte Hawley ... George Marshall
Willie Covan Willie Covan ... Specialty Tap Dancer
Neva Peoples Neva Peoples ... Ella
Vernon McCalla Vernon McCalla ... Mason (as Vernon McCallum)
Edward Thompson Edward Thompson ... Ferdie Fenton
Johnny Taylor Johnny Taylor ... Dippy - 'Prince Alakazoo'
Ray Martin Ray Martin ... Joe
Guernsey Morrow Guernsey Morrow ... Ed. Lake (as Guersney Morrow)
Charles Hawkins Charles Hawkins ... Sam - Stage Manager (as Charlie Hawkins)
Basin Street Boys Basin Street Boys ... Specialty Act
Rubberneck Holmes Rubberneck Holmes ... Specialty Act (as Rubber Neck Holmes)
Cats and the Fiddle Cats and the Fiddle ... Specialty Act


Duke Davis has invested all his savings to back his sweetheart, Ethel, in a road show over the old T.O.B.A. circuit, on which they have both been performers since childhood. Marshall, a New York talent scout, makes an offer to Ethel as a single and, to induce her to take it, Duke writes a fake check, made out to him, for $5000 pretending he has sold his contract with Ethel to Marshall. Resentful and heartbroken, she accepts and becomes a big hit in New York. Marshall then books her at the swanky Century Club, plans her show himself, and it flops miserably. Meanwhile, Duke has used his last resources to start a new show, but without Ethel it also fails. He joins the Doc Dorando medicine show, and with him as the speiler for the quack elixir sold by Dorando, it is successful. He becomes Doc's partner with an elaborate trailer and a company of entertainers, including Willie Covans, the Basin Street Boys, The Cats and the Fiddle, "Rubberneck" Holmes and Joe Stevenson. Money is rolling in ... Written by Les Adams <longhorn1939@suddenlink.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

1 September 1938 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Bronze Venus See more »

Filming Locations:

New York City, New York, USA

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


In the backstage scenes before "Blackberry Baby" all the text on the signage is reversed, indicating the film had an error in editing at some point, splicing that strip back on backwards. See more »


Duke Davis: Say, I've got a brand new act.
Ed. Lake: Oh, sure, I know. New gags. Classy songs. Swell wardrobe. I hear that every day. I know it by heart. It's got whiskers on it.
See more »


Featured in American Experience: Midnight Ramble (1994) See more »


I Know You Remember
Written by Harvey Brooks and Ben Ellison
Performed by Lena Horne
See more »

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User Reviews

Not especially good--but keep it in its proper context.
21 December 2011 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

It says in the IMDb trivia section that Lena Horne was not paid for her work in this film. Does this mean she was cheated or that she agreed to make it for free? I'd love to know more about this.

In the 1930s and 40s, due to segregation, Black people were often not allowed into movie theaters with Whites. So, Black theaters opened across the country--particularly in the South. And, in many cases, these theaters brought the audiences Black-produced films. The problem, however, was that the economics of the Black community were not even close to those in the country as a whole--and most films made by these tiny independent studios were pretty poor compared to the products of the majors. While this is not always true, the acting and writing were rather suspect--and production values were pretty shabby. So, as you watch "The Duke Is Tops", cut it a bit of slack--you cannot compare a film like this to the products of MGM, Warner and the like. Yes, it's sub-par--but it's also an interesting window into the times. singer and works for a guy named 'the Duke'. The acting is the worst part--and the director (if there even was one!) didn't seem to ever re-shoot scenes in which the actors stumbled over their lines or where the singers sounded flat. Horne, who really could act, looked dreadful--and you'd never have predicted her later stardom based on her acting in this one. She's certainly not the only poor one nor the worst actor in the film--but it looks like the film was shot in only a few days--which, incidentally, it was! However, on the plus side, some of the singing is quite good and the comedy works...occasionally. Overall, it's an odd curio of a bygone era, but not a good film.

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