Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Girl from Chicago (1932)

Blaxploitation was a 70s phenomenon, but in the earlier days of the movie industry we had 'race films', which starred African-American casts and were marketed to African-American audiences.  As with blaxploitation films of course, many of these were financed (and the profits pocketed) by white-owned companies.  But there were a couple of exceptions, the most successful of which was the Micheaux Film Corporation.

This is a Micheaux film, made on a shoestring budget with a mostly non-professional cast.  If the internet is to be believed, that was typical of the studio's output, as is the inclusion of several song and dance numbers to 'pad' the running time.  Frankly though, one of the dance numbers was probably the best part of the movie, as irrelevant to the plot as it might have been.

The movie starts with Secret Service agent Oscar White returning to the US after several months working with Scotland Yard.  I'm not sure any of that's very likely, but then this film also has White's romance being reported by the society pages, so realism isn't high on the agenda.

So White gets sent to look into some nefarious activities in Mississippi, where he meets a girl from Virgina and they fall in love.  The film helpfully has a text scrawl to tell us about the blossoming of the romance, since it neglects to y'know, actually show it.

White's not only girl-chasing though, he's also bad guy chasing, which he does with such success that he gets his man about half way through the film.  You might wonder what the film is going to do, if the lead has got the girl and the villain by the 30-minute mark, but not to worry -- the girl helpfully introduces a whole new subplot and so it is off to Harlem for the completely-unrelated-to-the-first-act-second-act.  In which White tracks down the killer of a numbers banker (not actually a thing the secret service does).

You might have mentioned that there's no mention of Chicago in any of that summary, and I don't recall it being brought up in the film either.  Where the movie got its title - other than Micheauc being based in Chaicago - I'm not exactly sure.

This is interesting only as a historical curiousity (well, and for that one neat dance number, though you can find better online if that's your thing).

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