Interesting slice of 1930's black cinema...
Mark Savary | Seattle, WA | 06/03/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Both of the movies on this DVD appear to be classic black cinema. That is, films made for black audiences of the '30s.The fist film, "Hi De Ho", Cab Calloway plays himself in a very poor vehicle about the rise to fame of a bandleader. Grade Z acting is the order of the day in this one, but the real reason to watch is Cab's music. There's also a great tap dance routine in the finale. Although he plays "himself", Cab gets involved in a gunfight and even smacks his girl around! Certainly an odd proceeding for the bandleader."The Duke is Tops" is much better, and better produced. Lena Horne makes her film debut in this story about a show producer who feels he is standing in Lena's way. He loves Lena so much he steps aside so she can have her shot at stardom while he fades into obscurity, eventually working with a travelling medicine show. This film is the more enjoyable of the two.Included with the two movies is a color cartoon from the forgotten Van Beuren Studios, featuring "Mr. Bang", a perpetually angry and argumentative character, and a foreign woman named Katrinka with superhuman strength. Van Beuren Studios went belly up in 1936, having failed to create any lasting characters of note. A strange, but somewhat useful inclusion on this disc for the film student.There's also a newsreel with footage of Hitler, the Hindenburg disaster, and Joe Louis preparing for a fight.The disc is an interesting slice of 1930's black cinema, which no student of film history should pass up. Of course, Cab and Lena's music are the real prize for the collector."
Good only for the music and historical purposes
Andre M. | Mt. Pleasant, SC United States | 04/11/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Both of these are considered "classic Black films" of the 1930s and 40s, popular in Black theaters and often shown on BET in the early days before it became "Booty Entertainment Television."
But I digress. "Hi De Ho" is a vehicle for Cab Calloway. Some really great music and comedy, including the legendary Dusty Fletcher in his classic "Open the Door Richard" routine that was as popular among Blacks as "Who's On First" was to whites. Cab also does an excellent "St. James Infirmary" and the scenes of him jamming with his band in his apartment are fun to watch. But the scenes were Cab slaps around Jeni Le Gon (Andy 's girlfriend on the Amos and Andy Show) and barks orders at her are major turn-offs to the modern viewer.
"The Duke Is Tops" has even less to recommend it. Ralph Cooper (best remembered as the MC at the Apollo Theater) plays Duke, the love interest of a young Lena Horne. Mighty humdrum stuff, except for the pioneering rap and doo-wop group the Cats and the Fiddle cavorting and clowing on their jazz/r&b classic "Killing Jive" (listen carefully to the lyrics, it's a coded tune about marijuana smoking). This one scene is usually considered by those who have seen it to be the highlight of the picture.
But music aside, these films are mainly for historic interest as a look at pre-Superfly and Spike Lee African-American cinema."