a/k/a The Glory Road
A Mighty Epic of Modern Morals!
Year of Release: 1941
Runtime: 57 mins/68 mins
Black & White
Studio: Amegro Films, Sack Amusement Enterprises
Director: Spencer Williams
Cathryn Caviness (Sister Martha Ann Jackson), Spencer Williams (Ras Jackson), Juanita Riley (Sister Jenkins), Reather Hardeman (Sister Ellerby), Rogenia Goldthwaite (The Angel), Jas. B. Jones (Satan), Frank H. McClennan (Judas Green), Eddie DeBase (Rufus Brown), Alva Fuller (Luke Willows).
At the riverside baptism of Sister Martha Ann Jackson, two members of a Southern church congregation, Sister Ellerby and Sister Jenkins, discuss Martha’s three-month-old marriage to the godless Ras Jackson. After the baptism, Sister Jenkins escorts Martha home and advises her to get some rest. As she is leaving, Sister Jenkins encounters Ras, who missed the baptism and is returning home from a hunting trip.
Later Ras begrudgingly joins his wife in prayer and then sets down his rifle, which falls to the ground firing a bullet. The bullet passes through Martha and hits a picture of Jesus Christ. On her deathbed, Martha is visited by a heavenly angel, who takes her spirit to a mystical graveyard where those whose lives have been cut short by the sins of others walk in silence. The angel tells Martha that this is not the place for her yet, and sends her down the highway of life to the crossroads of life and death.
No sooner does the angel warn Martha to beware of hypocrites and false prophets, than she is tempted by Judas Green, Satan’s emissary, who dresses her in fancy clothes and takes her to a nightclub in the city. While Martha is entertained by an acrobat and a jazz singer, Judas makes arrangements with sleazy roadhouse operator Rufus Brown to hire her as one of his “girls.” Martha is tempted with the promise of abundant wealth for little work, but changes her mind just before she is to begin her job. Claiming that he invested money in her, Brown insists she go to work immediately.
Martha eventually takes the advice of the angel and flees the roadhouse, only to be chased by a customer who mistakes her for the escort who picked his pocket. The man and his friends chase Martha to the crossroads of eternal life and death, where Satan and a jazz band are waiting for her. Martha collapses at the crossroads but is saved by the angel, who sends away the men who have been chasing her. As the crossroads sign is transformed into a crucifix and drops of Jesus Christ’s blood land on Martha’s forehead, she is revived and returned to life. Ras is amazed at Martha’s miraculous recovery, and they embrace under the watchful eye of the angel.
The Blood of Jesus, shot on location in Texas on a budget of only $5,000, marked Spencer Williams’ directorial debut. The financial backer claimed it was “possibly the most successful” and “lived the longest” of all the movies of its period created by black filmmakers for black audiences.
In his book Black Film as Genre, Thomas Cripps wrote that the film “provided a brief anatomy of Southern Baptist folk theology by presenting Christian myth in literal terms. From its opening voiceover, the film became an advocate for the most enduring traditions of Afro-American family life on Southern ground.”
In 2013 The Blood of Jesus became the first race film to be added to the U.S. National Film Registry.
TCM; Blaxploitation Pride.