The Gunsaulus Mystery

Year of Release:  1921
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  N/A
Runtime:   Unknown
Black & White
Studio:  Micheaux Film Corp.
Director & Producer:  Oscar Micheaux

Lawrence Chenault (Anthony Brisbane)
Evelyn Preer (Ida May Gilpin)
Dick Abrams (Sidney Wyeth)
Louis De Bulger (Lem Hawkins)

Myrtle Gunsaulus, a young African-American girl, is found murdered in the basement of a New York City factory by Arthur Gilpin, the black janitor.  Gilpin is charged with the murder and arrested.  His sister, Ida May, hires her former boyfriend, defense attorney Sidney Wyeth, to represent him.  During the sensational trial, Wyeth is able to prove Arthur’s innocence.  Janitor Lem Hawkins makes a confession which implicates the sexually perverted white superintendent and general manager of the factory.   The Gunsaulus Mystery was inspired by the trial of Leo Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan in which Frank, a white factory foreman, threatened a black janitor into helping him dispose of his young, female victim.

According to an unidentified news item from the African-American newspaper Chicago Defender, “the story is built around and about the famous Leo M. Frank trial which took place in Georgia some years ago…in which a member of the Jewish race was convicted of the murder of a young factory girl on the alleged confession of one of ‘our folks,’ who was employed by the same firm.”  A Chicago Defender ad for the film states that filmmaker Oscar Micheaux was in the courtroom during the Frank trial.  After Frank was sentenced to death, Georgia Governor John M. Slaton issued a stay of execution, but Frank was lynched by a mob after Slaton commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

Micheaux revisited the subject again in 1935 with a sound remake, which was released under the titles Murder in Harlem, a/k/a Brand of Cain a/k/a Lem Hawkins’ Confession. Especially in this version, Micheaux used the conventions of the detective story to introduce differing narratives and rework the binary nature of the trial, in which an African-American man and Jewish-American man had testified against each other.

This film is considered lost.

New York Times, All Movies, TCM, Department of Afro American Research and Culture (


The Brute (wikimedia commons)“To make a woman love you, KNOCK HER DOWN” – Bull Magee

Year of Release: 1920
Genre: Drama
Rating: N/A
Runtime: Not Available
Black & White
Studio: Micheaux Film Corporation
Producer & Director: Oscar Micheaux

Evelyn Preer (Mildred Carrison)
A.B. DeComathiere (Bull Magee)
Sam Langford (Tug Wilson)
Susie Sutton (Aunt Clara)
Lawrence Chenault (Herbert Lanyon)
Laura Bowman (Mrs. Carrison)
Mattie Edwards (A Guest in ‘The Hole’)
Alice Gorgas (Margaret Pendleton)
Virgil Williams (Referee)
Marty Cutler (Sidney Kirkwood)
Foy Clements (Irene Lanyon)
Louis Schooler (Klondike)


Herbert Lanyon and Mildred Carrison are engaged. When Herbert is presumed dead in a shipwreck, Mildred is forced by her gold digging Aunt Clara to marry gambler and crime boss, Bull Magee. Mildred is unhappy married to Bull who mistreats her. When Herbert is found alive, a repentant Aunt Clara and Herbert free Mildred from Magee, and the lovers are able to marry.

A subplot involves boxer “Tug” Wilson (played by boxing champion Sam Langford), who is ordered by his manager, Bull Magee, to throw a major fight at the film’s climax.


It is reported on Wikipedia that the original version of the film included a scene where the boxer defeats a white rival, but Micheaux was forced by the censors to remove the scene, though Black Cinema Connection has been unable to confirm this information.

This film is considered lost.

Source(s): TCM, Wikipedia; Quote: Zazzle Oscar Micheaux vintage movie ad card; Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Homesteader

The Homesteader

Year of Release:  1919
Genre:  Drama
Rating: N/A
Runtime:  Unknown
Black & White
Studio:  Micheaux Book and Film Company
Producer:  Oscar Micheaux
Director:  Oscar Micheaux; Jerry Mills

Charles D. Lucas (Jean Baptiste)
Evelyn Preer (Orlean)
Iris Hall (Agnes Stewart)
Vernon S. Duncan (McCarthy)
Inez Smith (Ethel)
Trevy Woods (Glavis/Ethel’s husband)

Synopsis:    In South Dakota, Agnes Stewart, a Scottish girl takes refuge in an isolated house during a blizzard. Hearing cries outside, she rescues Jean Baptiste, a Black homesteader who was in danger of freezing to death. Baptiste falls in love with Agnes, who does not know that she is not White.  Baptiste despairs of overcoming the social barriers that prevent their union  He returns east and marries Orlean, the daughter of McCarthy, a vain and greedy minister.  Baptiste is persecuted by McCarthy and by Ethel (McCarthy’s other daughter), who, like her father, possesses “all the evil a woman is capable of.”  When Orlean goes insane and commits suicide, Baptiste returns to South Dakota, finds Agnes and discovers that she is really Black. The two are able to be together and find happiness at last.


Oscar Micheaux’s first film.

Some information in the plot synopsis comes from a 1927 interview with Evelyn Preer.

Micheaux’s 1948 film The Betrayal is sometimes described as a loose remake of The Homesteader.

Source(s): TCM; Wikipedia; Photo:  By Micheaux Book & Film Company via Wikimedia Commons.

Within Our Gates

Within Our Gates

Year of Release:  1920
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  N/A
Runtime:  79 mins.
Black & White
Studio:  Micheaux Film Co.
Producer:  Oscar Micheaux
Director:  Oscar Micheaux

Evelyn Preer (Sylvia Landry)
Flo Clements (Alma Prichard)
James D. Ruffin (Conrad Drebert)
Jack Chenault (Larry Prichard)
William Smith (Philip Gentry, a detective)
Charles D. Lucas (Dr. V. Vivian)
Bernice Ladd (Mrs. Geraldine Stratton)
William Starks (Jasper Landry)
Ralph Johnson (Philip Griddlestone)
E. G. Tatum (Efrem)
Grant Edwards (Emil)


Sylvia Landry, a young black woman from the South, visits her Northern cousin, divorcee Alma Prichard.  Sylvia’s fiancé, Conrad Drebert, writes to her from Brazil, where he is working, to tell her that he will send a telegram with the date of his arrival.  When the telegram arrives, Alma, who is in love with Conrad, intercepts and destroys it.  When Conrad arrives, Alma sets up Sylvia to be seen with another man.

Within Our Gates - Sylvia and Alma

Within Our Gates - Conrad tries to kill Sylvia

Enraged, Conrad tries to strangle her, but she is saved by Alma. Conrad storms out and breaks their engagement, much to Alma’s satisfaction.  Saddened by the breakup, Sylvia leaves town and takes a job at a school for poor black children in the southern town of Piney Woods, that is run by Reverend Wilson Jacobs and his sister Constance. When money troubles hit the establishment, however, Sylvia decides to go to Boston to find a rich benefactor. One day, depressed that she has not met any rich people to take an interest in the school’s plight, Sylvia saves a little boy from being struck by the car of rich philanthropist Elena Warwick, and is herself injured. Mrs. Warwick visits her in the hospital and Sylvia tells her that the school must find $5,000 in the next ten days or it will close.

Within Our Gates - Mrs. Warwick offers trhe school money

Mrs. Warwick is set to give the school the money until she speaks with her friend, Mrs. Geraldine Stratton, who convinces the naïve Mrs. Warwick that educating blacks is a mistake, and that they are more suited to being field hands and lumberjacks. She suggests giving the money to Old Ned, a black preacher whose fiery sermons encourage blacks to remain “pure” and untainted by education, culture and politics.

Within Our Gates - Blacks don't want an education

When Sylvia returns to collect the school’s money from Mrs. Warwick, she is refused, but later, Mrs. Warwick changes her mind and sends the school fifty-thousand dollars.thousand dollars. Sylvia returns to Piney Woods, where Jacobs proposes. Sylvia refuses the offer, however, as she has fallen in love with Doctor V. Vivian, a young Boston man deeply committed to improving blacks’ social conditions.

Within Our Gates - Sylvia and Dr. V. Vivian
Meanwhile, Larry, Alma’s stepbrother, a notorious gangster, flees police after killing another gambler in a card game. He escapes to Piney Woods and plans to swindle the poor blacks in the region by selling them stolen goods. Larry eventually encounters Sylvia, with whom he was once in love, and tells her that he will reveal her past to the school’s administrators if she does not steal the school’s money for him.

Within Our Gates - Larry threatens SylviaDistraught, Sylvia returns to Boston. Larry, meanwhile, has also gone back North and is shot while trying to rob a bank. When Dr. Vivian goes to the Prichards’ to tend Larry’s wounds, he meets Alma, who tells him about Sylvia’s past.

Flashback:  Sylvia was adopted by the Landrys, a family of poor black southerners.  When she was a young girl, the Landrys sent Sylvia to school, and the educated girl eventually discovered that her father’s landlord and employer, Philip Griddlestone, owed him $625.00. Armed with his daughter’s calculations, Mr. Landry goes to see Griddlestone, who rudely dismisses him. At that moment, a white laborer whom Griddlestone had earlier swindled, enters the room and shoots Griddlestone.  Efrem, Griddlestone’s gossipy, meddlesome servant, screams through the town’s streets that Mr. Landry murdered his employer. A lynch mob is formed and the Landrys run away, taking refuge in the swamps. The manhunt continues for a week, and, frustrated that the Landrys had eluded them, the mob attacks and kills the traitorous Efrem, who had been gloating about how much the whites loved him.  Mr. and Mrs. Landry and their young son Emil are captured.  The parents are hanged and burned at the stake, but Emil escapes.  Meanwhile, the real killer is accidentally shot by the mob.  Griddlestone’s brother, Armand, follows Sylvia back to the home of her parents’ friends. Armand attacks Sylvia and tries to rape her, but sees a scar on her breast and suddenly realizes that Sylvia is his own daughter from his union with a black woman.  Armand then pays for the girl’s education but never tells Sylvia that he is her father.

Within Our Gates - Armand attacks SylviaIn the present, Dr. Vivian finds a distraught Sylvia and tells her that they must remember that their people fought in Cuba, Mexico and France for the freedom of their great country. Confident that once married Sylvia will be an excellent wife and a confirmed patriot, Dr. Vivian is not disappointed.


Within Our Gates was Oscar Micheaux’s earliest surviving directorial effort.

Within Our Gates stirred up considerable controversy during its original release because it contained scenes of lynching and racial conflict.  At first the film, which eventually had its premiere in Chicago, was rejected by the Chicago Board of Movie Censors who were afraid the movie could possibly inspire a race riot. However, a second screening of the film by the press, Chicago politicians, and prominent members of the Black community convinced the Censors to grant the film a permit since it addressed horrendous conditions that needed reform.  Not everyone agreed with this assessment, however, and some of the most vigorous protesters against the film were black activists.  By June 1920, the film was edited down, with much of its controversial material removed.

Within Our Gates - the end

Sources:  Turner Classic Movies

Watch the movie below