Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Harlem Double Feature Hi De Ho / Duke Is Tops |
Actor: Lena Horne Cab Calloway
Director: William L. Nolte Josh Binney
Genres: Drama, Musicals & Performing Arts
The great Cab Calloway becomes involved with gangsters in this all black cast classic / A young man will do anything to see his beautiful and talented sweetheart succeed on Broadway.
Cab Calloway and a young Lena Horne are great...but the movi
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 08/09/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"HI DE HO:
Hi De Ho is one more of the quick, cheap movies cranked out by Hollywood featuring black entertainers and designed to fill seats in the movie houses for the segregated black audiences of the south and the unofficially but just as segregated theaters everywhere else. Hi De Ho is exceptional in one regard. It features that great showman and entertainer Cab Calloway in his prime and a year before he decided to disband his orchestra because of changing musical tastes. Calloway had a long career, and had become a star by 1930. He sang, moved (not exactly danced), strutted and jived. White audiences most probably learned what they knew about jump jazz, scat singing and the hep cat beat from Calloway. He was a fine singer, wrote a lot of his own stuff, and led one of the best swing orchestras around. He also seemed to have inexhaustible energy. So fair warning...Calloway's high energy pours out of this movie. Because the film is in such bad condition, however, watching it can wear you down after a while.
The story line is little more than an excuse for Calloway and his orchestra to perform some great, driving, swing numbers. The movie is only 63 minutes long and the plot is over in the first half hour. For the last half hour we watch a non-stop performance of some great music and speciality acts. The idea is that Cab is just starting out in the business. He has a jealous girlfriend, Minnie (Jeni Le Gon) and a new, young manager, Etta (Ida James), who is as pretty as his girlfriend. Etta wangles a gig for Cab and his orchestra at a new nightclub, but it's right across the street from one owned by a gangster. Minnie thinks Cab has fallen for Etta, so she convinces the mob boss to eliminate his new competition by shooting Cab. Then Minnie realizes her mistake, tries to save Cab and takes the bullet meant for him. This is the plot, and in 30 minutes it's all squeezed in between eight full musical numbers of him and his orchestra rehearsing or playing at the nightclub. Now we learn that Cab has become a huge success. For the next 30 minutes we're in a plush nightclub where we watch nine terrific numbers, including the rotund Peter Sisters, singers, and the extraordinary The Miller Brothers and Lois, tap dancers. A highlight is Calloway doing St. James Infirmary Blues. Another is a full-throttle, sophisticated arrangement of At Dawn Time. Although his now-dead former girlfriend was named Minnie and was something of a moocher, Calloway never sings his signature, Minnie the Moocher. The closest we get is Minnie Is a Hep Cat Now.
The movie is one of those ancient public domain films which has never received an ounce of preservative love. It's in bad shape. The acting, except for Calloway, is dismal. But Cab Calloway and His Orchestra show why they were first-class musicians as well as first-class entertainers. If you've ever heard Cab Calloway sing, you'll hear his voice...
"I was walkin' up the street feelin' bad and bold
Deep down in my pockets I didn't have no gold
I looked up to the skies and to my surprise
I saw a million dollar bill floatin' before my eyes.
THE DUKE IS TOPS:
If The Duke Is Tops needs to be remembered today, it's for two reasons. First, this was Lena Horne's first movie. She was 21 and still has a little baby fat. The voice catches you immediately. She's no actress yet, and all that sleek sophistication is in the future. She's already a stunning looker, however, with a great smile. In a satin dress with her shoulders just a little sloped and a toss of her head while she looks at the sky, she reminds me a lot of Jean Harlow, sexy and good-natured. "Look at that personality," a promoter says while the character she's playing is on-stage singing, "she's a cinch for the big-time. Hear that voice? That's what they're buying!" The second reason, as with all the other cheaply-produced all-Negro films aimed for the movie equivalent of the chitlin circuit, are the specialty acts. This circuit was made up of law-enforced segregated movie houses in the south and de facto segregated movie houses everywhere else. The speciality acts preserved on these films are often the only things we have left to witness some great black entertainers. In The Duke Is Tops we have William Covan, a stylish tap dancer; Rubber Neck Holmes, a singular combination of tap and odd gymnastics; Cats and the Fiddle, a swinging singing group; Marie Bryant, a terrific exotic dancer in African costume; the Basin Street Boys, a singing group who are all style; plus the Harlemania Orchestra.
What's the plot? Duke Davis (Ralph Cooper), a big, multi-talented, good-looking guy, is a small-time producer of variety shows in the south. His latest review is the Sepia Scandals. Ethel Andrews (Lena Horne) is his headliner. He brought her along to stardom, even if it's just small-town stardom. They think the world of each other and dream of making the big-time on Broadway together. Then Ethel gets a Broadway offer, but it doesn't include Duke. She turns it down. Duke realizes what he has to do for her. He engineers a split with Ethel so that she'll leave him. She does and heads north. Duke is left with little money and his next review without Ethel flops. But Duke has talent and energy. He hooks up with Dr. Doramos and turns the failing Dr. Doramos' Universal Elixir traveling medicine show into the successful Doramos and Davis road show, selling a lot of bottles of the universal elixir to all the rubes...I mean, customers.
But Duke hears that Ethel isn't bringing in the customers. The word's out; Ethel Andrews isn't a star, she's just another specialty act. Duke drops everything, rejoins Ethel and completely recasts and transforms her show. The nightclub is packed, the show is a success, and Ethel, thanks to Duke, proves she's a star in the big time. It's a lot to slog through. Still, the movie is only 75 minutes and Ralph Cooper does a fine and funny job as Duke while he's working the medicine show gig. Most of all, there are all those acts, plus Lena Horne. The movie is not in good shape. As history, it's certainly worth watching."