Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Wanted to Go Down for a Nap: "Go Down, Death!" (1944)



Made specifically for segregated African-Americans in the 1940's, this heavy-handed Christian story is admirable for entertaining a repressed segment of the population, but to be blunt- it's pretty awful.

For a fifty-four minute film, this is padded all to hell (so to speak). Young preacher Jasper (Samuel H. James) is ready to take on the owner of the local nightclub, Big Jim Bottoms (director Spencer Williams). Big Jim comes up with a plan to frame the preacher with some photographs showing him cavorting with three women and DRINKING! The convoluted plan works, and Jim shows off his pics to his adoptive mother Caroline, who also happens to be the aunt to Bettie Jean, Jasper's girlfriend. Caroline does some mighty fine praying, as the ghost of her dead husband helps her retrieve the photographs. The Lord does work in mysterious ways, as a major character dies, and Big Jim gets his Big Comeuppance.

From a technical point of view, this film is terrible. A "Harlemwood" production set in Savannah, Georgia, it looks like it was edited in a blender. The dialogue rarely syncs up, stock footage is used constantly, and except for Williams and the beautiful actress who plays Bettie Jean, the cast is at a loss. Caroline and Bettie Jean's roles are not credited in the film, there is just a list of the performers at the beginning and end of the footage. The screenplay was based on a story that was based on a poem, and something must have been lost in the adaptation. There is barely enough here to assemble a half hour short to be shown in church basements, much less almost an hour.

Sure, you can show sympathy for the film makers, and the audience, and point out its importance in African-American film history, or you can sit down and try to watch the thing. I watched the thing. "Go Down, Death!" doesn't go down easily. (*) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Harlem Double Feature (Go Down Death! / Sunday Sinners)