Lying Lips

Release Date:  1939
Black & White
Genre:  Drama
Director:  Oscar Micheaux
Studio(s):  Micheaux Film, Sack Amusement Enterprises
Running Time:  80 mins.

Cast:  Edna Mae Harris (Elsie Bellwood), Carman Newsome (Benjamin Hadnott), Robert Earl Jones (Detective Wanzer), Frances Williams (Elizabeth Green), Cherokee Thornton (John), Slim Thompson (Clyde), Gladys Williams (Aunt Josie), Juano Hernández (Reverend Bryson), Henry ‘Gang’ Gines (Ned Green), Don De Leo (Farina), Charles Latorre (Garotti), Robert Paquin (District Attorney), George Reynolds (Lieutenant of Police), Amanda Randolph (Matron).

Story:  Elsie, a popular nightclub singer, refuses to go out with the customers at the request of the white owner of the club. The owner decides to get Benjamin, the black manager of the club, to talk to Elsie and try to persuade her to cooperate. Ben refuses and quits his job. He tells Elsie about his conversation with the owner and persuades Elsie to stay on because she is popular and can make a lot of money, but he warns her to be careful. Elsie stays, but still refuses to date the customers. Later, the owner hires John and Clyde, Elsie’s uncles (note: other sources state that these are her cousins), to replace Ben as manager.

One evening, after the club closes, Elsie goes home and finds to her horror that her Aunt Josie, who lives with her, has been killed.  The police arrive and question Elsie but do not believe her story, so they arrest her for the murder of her aunt.  John and Clyde testify that they saw Elsie on the night of the murder leaving the club for a short time and later returning. Elizabeth Green, Clyde and John’s sister, tells the police that Elsie bought a large life insurance policy on her aunt, with herself as the beneficiary. With this evidence, Elsie is convicted of the crime and sent to prison.

Ben, who has now become a detective on the police force, and Detective Wanzer, who is a close friend of Elsie’s, do not believe that she is guilty and set out to find the real killer. After some investigation, they learn that Elizabeth Green’s husband, Ned, was actually in love with Aunt Josie. With jealousy as a possible motive, Ben and Wanzer now suspect that Elizabeth and her brothers are connected with the crime.  One night the detectives confront John and accuse him of the murder.  John refuses to confess, so Ben and Wanzer take him to Tolston’s Manor, which is rumored to be haunted. There they threaten to tie him up and leave him at the mercy of the ghosts. Terrified, John tells all.

He reveals the story of his sister’s family, and tells them how Ned was tricked into marrying her and that he was in love with Aunt Josie when they lived in the South.  After realizing that his wife had tricked him, Ned ran north, but Elizabeth pursued him, and her two brothers threatened him.  Although he stayed with Elizabeth, he continued to see Aunt Josie and threatened to leave his wife.

John admits that he and Clyde lied about seeing Elsie leave the club on the night of the murder. Furthermore, he tells them that earlier that night, Elizabeth found a note left by her husband which stated that out of despair, he had decided to kill Aunt Josie and then take his own life. John also relates that it was Elizabeth’s plan to frame Elsie for the crime. The police recover Ned’s body from the river, verifying John’s story. On this new evidence, Elsie is granted a pardon by the Governor and released from prison. Out of deep gratitude and love, Elsie marries Benjamin, who has been in love with her all the time.

Notes:  Lying Lips marked the motion picture debut of actor Robert Earl Jones (1910-2006), a former boxer and stage actor who was credited onscreen as “Earl Jones.” Jones continued to act into the 1990s on stage and television, with occasional film roles, including “Luther Coleman” in the 1973 film The Sting.  Jones was the father of noted stage, film and television actor James Earl Jones.

Tolston’s Manor was also featured in another Micheaux film entitled The Ghost of Tolston’s Manor which was released in either 1923 or 1924.  The Ghost of Tolston’s Manor, also known as The Son of Satan starred Andrew Bishop and Lawrence Chenault and depicted the experiences of an ordinary black person going to a haunted house to stay all night as the result of an argument.  No print of the film is known to exist and it is presumed to be lost.

Sources:   tcm.com; Wikipedia; IMDB.  Photo Sources:  IMDB; daarac.org.

Movie:

Spitfire

Release Date:  7/24/1922
Genre:   Drama
Director:  Unknown
Studio(s):   Reol Productions Corp.
Running Time:  Unknown
Cast:   Edna Morton, Lawrence Chenault, George Edward Brown, Daisy Martin, Mabel Young, Sam Cook, Edward Williams.

Synopsis:  Guy Rogers, the son of a well-known publisher, sets out to prove his father’s racist critics wrong by putting Booker T. Washington’s philosophy into practice. He goes to a little Maryland Hills town where through his efforts a school and a library are built. He falls in love with Ruth Hill, whose recently widowed father, an ex-schoolteacher, is killed after being involved in horse thievery. “Buck” Bradley, the local dealer in hay and feed, who put Ruth’s father up to the crime, has been made her guardian, and he beats up Guy when he tries to defend her. She nurses Guy back to health, love blooms, and they marry.

Alternative Synopsis:  A young colored novelist has written a novel dealing with colored folks, but is told by his by publisher that it lacks the aura of reality because he has not lived among the lowly folk about whom he attempts to write. In search of such experience, he goes to a little Maryland settlement and there meets the daughter of a farmer who, by reason of her quick temper, has been nicknamed “Spitfire.” Her father is in the clutches of a gang of horse thieves headed by Bradley, and it is the rounding up of the gang and the love that springs up between the young novelist and the country lass that provide the theme.  Source(s):  TCM; DAARAC; IMDB.

The Schemers

Release Date:  8/19/1922
Genre:  Drama
Director:  Unknown
Studio(s):  Reol Production Corp.
Running Time:  Unknown
Silent
Black & White

Cast:  Edna Morton, G. Edward Brown, Lawrence Chenault, Walter Thomas, Bob Slater, Orma Crosby.

Synopsis:   Paul Jackson, a black research chemist with a drug company, is close to success in his attempt to develop a chemical substitute for gasoline. Juan Bronson, who is the private secretary of John Davidson, the president of the company, conspires with Miguel Anderson to steal Paul’s formula. Believing Paul to be carrying the formula, Bronson and Anderson kidnap him, but the papers are not on his person. Paul manages to call Isobel Benton, his sweetheart, and instructs her to go to his laboratory for the papers. Anderson overhears the conversation and also goes there, but Isobel outwits him and gets away with the formula. Anderson then frames Paul for the theft of some other important formulas, and Paul gives his formula back to Isobel for safekeeping. Anderson abducts Isobel, and Paul rescues her with the help of Davidson and a detective. Isobel proves Paul’s innocence, and the detective tells Davidson that Bronson and Anderson are notorious criminals, wanted by a South American government.

Source(s):  TCM; DAARAC; IMDB.

Easy Money

Release Date:  3/29/1922
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  NR
Director:  Unknown
Studio(s):  Reol Productions Corp.
Silent
Black & White

Cast:  Sherman H. Dudley (Andy Simpson), Edna Morton (Margie Watkins), H. L. Pryor,  Inez Clough,  Alex K. Shannon, Percy Verwayen.

Synopsis:  Andy Simpson, constable, blacksmith and all-round mechanic of Millbrook, a thrifty little southern town, is looked upon as slow, plodding, and lacking in ambition by all save Margie Watkins, his sweetheart and daughter of the bank president. Margie, however, becomes attracted to J. Overton Tighe (a partner of James Bradford, notorious promoter of “wildcat” investments), who is newly arrived in town in an expensive car. Despite Andy’s warnings, the townspeople eagerly buy shares in a phony stock promoted by Tighe. Mrs. Watkins even persuades her husband to invest some of the bank’s funds in the enterprise. Even after he finds conclusive evidence, Andy hesitates to arrest Tighe, for an arrest would mean the ruin of Margie’s father. Margie, apparently disregarding Andy’s advice, continues her affair with Tighe, and they become engaged. Tighe finds oil on Andy’s land and buys it for a song. Andy finally exposes Tighe’s real business in Millbrook (which is more serious than swindling), arrests Tighe, and in the end turns the tables on the shrewd promoter and himself gets the easy money.

Alternate Synopsis:  He was poor. A rich man was courting his girl. He discovered the fake stock scheme of his rival. He exposes the plot and became the man of the hour. Then he turned the tables on the rich man and won back his sweetheart. See the exciting raid on the stock gambler’s house. See the sensational leap from a tree to a speeding automobile. See the thrilling rescue of the banker’s daughter from death. See the triumph of a small-town constable in the whirlwind climax of ‘Easy Money’.  Source(s):  TCM; DAARAC.

The Crimson Skull

Release Date:  4/20/1922
Genre:  Action
Director:  Richard E. Norman
Studio(s):  Norman Film Manufacturing. Co.
Running Time:  Unknown

Cast:  Anita Bush (Anita Nelson), Lawrence Chenault (Bob Calem), Bill Pickett (Bill), Steve Reynolds (Bob’s Sidekick, billed as The One-Legged Marvel).

Story:  When the peaceful black city of Boley, Oklahoma falls under the control of an outlaw known as “The Skull” and his band of henchman, “The Terrors,” the Boley Law and Order League offers a one thousand-dollar reward for the Skull’s capture, dead or alive. The League also forces the resignation of the sheriff, a Skull puppet, and gives the job to the respected Lem Nelson, a cattleman and owner of the Crown C ranch. Bob Calem, the Crown C foreman, volunteers to infiltrate the Skull’s gang in order to hasten the criminals’ capture. When Steve Reynolds, a one-legged cowboy, and Anita Nelson, Lem’s daughter, as well as Bob’s sweetheart, are kidnapped by the gang, Bob helps them to escape.  He is accused of being a traitor, but the gang cannot decide whether Bob is guilty or innocent, so they leave his fate to the test of “The Crimson Skull,” in which one drop of blood will determine whether he lives or dies.

To rid the range of a gang of outlaws that are rustling cattle and robbing the banks and stagecoaches, cowhand Bob Calem, working on the gang-leader’s superstitions, dons a skeleton-costume to strike fear into the gang.

Notes:  Norman Film Manufacturing Co. was located in Jacksonville, FL. According to its pressbook, the film was produced in “the All-Colored City of Boley, Okla.” Lawrence Chenault, who played three roles, including the film’s hero and villain, had earlier been a member of the Anita Bush Dramatic Stock Company. Bush, who made her motion picture debut in The Crimson Skull, started acting in New York theater in 1903, and following her success at the Lincoln Theater in Harlem, became known as “The Little Mother of Colored Drama.” The pressbook stated that the film’s “action and story [are] on a par with white productions with the drawing feature of a cast composed entirely of colored artists. (There is not a white character in it.) And a story free from the usual mimicry of the colored man; free from ‘race problems’ that engender friction.” Publicity material stated that the cast included “30 colored cowboys.”  Source(s):  TCM; DAARAC.org; IMDB.

The Call of His People

Details
Year of Release:   7/15/1921
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  N/A
Runtime:   Unknown
Black & White
Silent
Studio:  Reol Productions Corp.

Cast
George Edward Brown
Edna Morton
Mae Kemp
James Steven
Lawrence Chenault
Mercedes Gilbert
Percy Verwayen
 
Synopsis

Nelson Holmes, an African American who has passed for White for twenty years, has advanced from office boy to the position of general manager at the Brazilian-American Coffee Syndicate.  One day Nelson is visited by James Graves, a boyhood friend from the South who is looking for a job as a Spanish correspondent. Fearing that his secret will be discovered, Nelson urges Graves to pose as a Spaniard, but Graves refuses. Finally Nelson agrees to make Graves his private secretary if he will remain quiet about Nelson’s true race.  Graves accepts, though he feels contempt for Nelson.  Deeply affected by seeing Graves again, Nelson pays a visit to Graves’ sister Elinor, who was his childhood sweetheart. Elinor is cold to him, angered by his denial of his own people. When a representative of the Santos Company, a competitor who is trying to put the Brazilian-American Coffee Syndicate out of business, offers Nelson a bribe to destroy some contracts that could ruin the company, Nelson indignantly refuses.  Their conversation is overheard by Beauregard Stuart, Nelson’s co-worker who was vexed that Nelson had received the promotion to general manager rather than him. That night, Graves overhears Stuart make a deal to get the contracts for the Santos representative. As Stuart is about to take the contracts from the company safe, Graves attacks him, and during their struggle, retrieves the contracts. After Graves runs off, Nelson returns to the office, and Stuart mistakes him for his attacker, then accuses him of the theft. The next morning, as Stuart is telling their boss, Lionel Weathering, that Nelson stole the contracts, Elinor arrives with the contracts and a letter from Graves, which proves Stuart’s guilt.  Nelson, extremely grateful for Elinor and Graves’ loyalty, finally informs his boss that he has been passing for white. Weathering assures Nelson that it is the quality and not the color of a man that counts, and Nelson asks Elinor for her hand in marriage, once again proud to be black.

Notes

According to Early Race Filmmaking in America, the movie was based upon the serialized novel The Man Who Would Be White, by Aubrey Bowser.  Bowser’s pedigree featured prominently in the studio’s advertising for the film which states, “Aubrey Bowser…of the colored race and a graduate of Harvard University.”  George P. Johnson described the film as “Mixed cast of white and colored.  Expensive picture, and very good in all departments.  Probably best Negro picture made.  However little high class.”

Reol’s advertising team appealed to racial pride to bring potential moviegoers to the theaters:

MOTHERS — FATHERS
DAUGHTERS – SONS:

If there is anything more binding between you and your Race than the color of your skin or the texture of your hair.  Or those few drops of Negro blood that cannot be detected In either; if you are really interested in our aims, our Achievements and our stations in life, don’t let your work, Scruples, age or anything else keep you from seeing

“THE CALL OF HIS PEOPLE”
Or
“THE MAN WHO WOULD BE WHITE”

Such advertising clearly touted the film as an example of black independent cinema, particularly since almost no mainstream films of this era considered the physiological aspects of race or the dreams and goals of the African-American population.  In his summary of the film, J.A. Jackson of Billboard, a mainstream white industry publication, wrote that it reflects “the ever present anxiety that is associated with the practice that has become so prevalent.”  This “anxiety” alluded to white fear of light-skinned African Americans passing for white.

Filmed at the Irvington-on-the-Hudson, NY estate of Black millionairess, A’Lelia Walker (daughter of Madam C. J. Walker).  Sources:  TMC; Early Race Filmmaking in America by Barbara Lupack (Editor); Daarac.org.