During the early twentieth century, Vaudeville and Burlesque were alive and well--and filled with some amazing performers. Many of them never made the transition to movies and most of them are forgotten with the passage of time. In a few cases, such as the Vitaphone shorts, some of these great performers are kept alive in our minds. But very few of them were black performers....which is why "High Toned" is such an important film. It's a rare case of a comedy duo, Buck and Bubbles (Ford Washington Lee and John Wiliam Sublett) who made it to film. And, incidentally, like so many of these performers were not just comedians but could do a variety of things such as sing and dance. In the case of Sublett, he reportedly is one of the folks who taught Fred Astaire how to dance! If that's not reason enough to watch the film, I don't know what is!
Like so many productions, this stars an all-black cast and was intended to be shown in all-black theaters. Yes, things were that segregated back in the 'good old days'...and most white patrons probably never heard of the team. And, by the way, I had no idea which was Buck and which was Bubbles...so I researched a bit and found Washington was Buck and Sublett was Bubbles.
The film finds the pair hungry and in look of work and a place to stay. One of them tells his friend that he knows the folks at a big mansion--as he used to work there and everyone there loves him. Well, it turns out his return is NOT a welcome one and the high-toned folks there want nothing to do with the pair. However, they are determined and when they learn they're throwing a fancy party, the pair arrive in ill-fitting tuxedos and make fools of themselves....at least at first. But when they begin dancing with the ladies, Bubbles is very smooth...and made me want to see more! But some of the guests STILL got offended for these lower-class gentlemen arriving...and one insists on a wrestling match between him and Bubbles...hardly a cultured or refined way to settle their differences! Not surprisingly, Bubbles is outmatched and losing badly...until an old man gives Buck a voodoo charm to influence the match!
While the idea of voodoo charms can easily be seen as offensive today, I would hate for folks never seeing the pair perform. It's just a product of the times....a bygone day when things were far from politically correct. Overall, a mildly amusing window into the past...and one I hope more people get to see.
Interestingly, the referee for this appears to be Spencer Williams (who later went on to play Andy in the TV version of "Amos 'n Andy". And, by the way, the sound quality of this short is pretty poor, though if you can excuse this, it can be found on the Alpha Video DVD "How Comedies Are Born".
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