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Way Down South
Way Down South
Actors: Matthew "Stymie" Beard, Sally Blane, Bobby Breen, Jack Carr, Steffi Duna
Director: Bernard Vorhaus
Genres: Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2006     1hr 0min

Way Down South, written by legendary African American poet Langston Hughes, is the story of Tim Reid, an orphan living in pre-Civil War Louisiana trying to get his family's plantation back from a group of treacherous trust...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Matthew "Stymie" Beard, Sally Blane, Bobby Breen, Jack Carr, Steffi Duna
Director: Bernard Vorhaus
Genres: Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Classics, Pop, Musicals
Studio: Roan Archival Group
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 02/07/2006
Original Release Date: 01/01/1939
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1939
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Great Roan Group Offering of Bobby Breen Film!
G. Alan Hicks | 11/18/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Of the eight or nine Bobby Breen films made through RKO Pictures in the late thirties, most have been forgotten and are difficult to get ahold of.

Roan Group has released two of those titles in quality releases. "Fisherman's Wharf" and "Way Down South"

The official Roan Group press release says this of Way Down South:


When one hears the phrase "1930s child star," one immediately thinks of Shirley Temple, "America's Sweetheart," whose movies continue to endure some 70 years after their release and win new generations of fans. But there was another big 1930's child star who was far more prolific and some say, more talented than Shirley Temple.

His name was Bobby Breen, and his movies are all but forgotten. Until now, thanks to Troma, rescuer of lost films and distributor of the Roan Group collection of classic movies.

Born in 1927, Bobby Breen was first discovered as a soprano singing sensation on the Eddie Cantor radio show. He would go on to make over 200 appearances on radio and appear in over 80 films. Only six of Breen's film appearances were starring roles.

Way Down South, made in 1939, was Bobby Breen's next-to-last starring role, as he was 12 years old and his trademark soprano singing voice was starting to change with the onset of puberty. It has earned a place in cinema history, not because it marked the beginning of the end of Bobby Breen's career, but for another, more amazing reason.

In the 1930s, roles for black actors and actresses were confined to that of servants and comedy reliefs. They were shuffling, bumbling, English-mangling buffoons. Black lead characters were mostly played by white actors in blackface, like the infamous radio, film, and TV comedy team Amos and Andy.

Not so with Way Down South. Amazingly, this 1939 B-picture and starring vehicle for Bobby Breen was written by two black men - Langston Hughes, the legendary poet and leader of the 1930s Harlem Renaissance, and co-star Clarence Muse, a top black actor of the 1930s and vocal activist against deragatory portrayals of blacks in movies.

Ironically, Hughes and Muse would later be criticized for their script not treating slavery harshly enough, despite the fact that the movie features a white slave owner extolling the virtues of black people and black culture, something astonishing and unheard of in a Hollywood film of the 1930s.

Bernard Vorhaus, director of Way Down South, had an interesting history as well. He emigrated to the U.S. to escape persecution in Nazi Germany and became a successful and respected film director, only to face persecution again in the anti-communist witch hunts of the early 1950s. Vorhaus was named as a communist, blacklisted by Hollywood, and brought before the HUAC, (House Un-American activities Committee) but he managed to escape persecution again, this time by fleeing to London where he lived until his death in 2000 - at the age of 102!

The Movie

Way Down South opens on a plantation in 1854 New Orleans, with the owner, Timothy Reid, Sr. (Ralph Morgan) being chided by his lawyer, Martin Dill (Edwin Maxwell) for spending too much money on building new, comfortable living quarters for his slaves. Reid doesn't care what Dill thinks and laughs off his complaint.

Reid's son, Tim Jr., (Bobby Breen) lives a happy, carefree life on the plantation. His two best friends are slaves: the wise, old Uncle Caton (Clarence Muse) and Gumbo (Little Rascal Matthew "Stymie" Beard), a boy Tim's age.

Then, tragedy strikes. Tim's dad is trampled by a horse and killed. Since Tim already lost his mother, he is now an orphan. What's worse, his dad's lawyer, Martin Dill, is the executor of the estate. Dill plans on auctioning most of the slaves off (including Uncle Caton) and he hires a cruel overseer to literally whip the rest into shape.

Tim is furious when he finds out that the slaves are being whipped and will go up on the auction block. Dill claims that he is trying to cut costs and protect Tim's inheritance, but the financially strapped lawyer is really embezzling from the estate in order to lavish his money-grubbing shrew of a fiance with gifts.

Uncle Caton disguises himself as a woman and Tim sneaks him off the plantation. Tim turns to the only white friend he has, Cajun restauranteur Jacques Bouton, (Alan Mowbray) for help, desperate to prevent the slaves from being sold. The sly Bouton uses his wits and charm to help Tim expose the shyster lawyer.


Way Down South is presented in its original 1:33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The print suffers from mild grain and scratch issues, but thanks to the digital restoration, it's mostly sharp and clear and great looking for a movie made almost 70 years ago.


The original monaural audio track has been remastered as well and presented in great-sounding Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo.

Special Features

Introduction by Lou Lumenick - an introduction to Way Down South by New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick, who talks about the movie's historical background.

The Life Of A Child Star: Bill Winckler On His Father Bobby Winckler - An 8-minute short featuring child actor Bobby Winckler's son Bill Winckler talking about his father's career as a child star and his post-Hollywood life and death. A lot of interesting details are packed into this featurette! Winckler recalls his father's work with Bobby Breen and other child actors of the 30's.

Scene From Roan Group's Check And Double Check - a scene from Check And Double Check, the equally historic 1930 film featuring the popular and controversial blackface comedy team of Amos and Andy. It's also available on DVD.

Radiation March - Troma's surreal anti-pollution short, which appeared often as an extra on Troma's VHS releases.