Nn the fabular black-cast film The Blood of Jesus (1941), a young religious-minded wife, sister Martha Jackson (Cathryn Caviness), has just been baptized, Her husband Razz Jackson (Spencer Williams), out hunting on the sabbath, does not share her devotion.
Martha's accidentally shot when her husband drops his rifle. The church women pray over her in her sickbed. Martha has visions of angels & it doesn't seem she's going to make it. Everyone sings "Sweet Chariot" as her husband flings himself into guilt & misery.
At the depth of his woe, he finds the Lord, but it's at that moment Martha dies.
To "Gimme Dat Old Time Religion," brother Jackson sees an angel (Rogenia Goldthwaite) come for his wife's soul & lead her away.
Having been shown by the angel the road she must take, & warned about the dangers & the crossroad, Martha's soul sets out alone. Along the way she encounters a handsome devil, Judas Green (Frank H. McClennan), an emmisary of Satan (James B. Jones).
Judas tempts Martha with fine clothes & she veers aside from the correct road, visiting a jazz club where there are skillful dancers & musicians & Miss Gay's "acrobatic dance." This cartwheeling dancer is great, & too bad the director didn't think her worthy of a being credited beyond the 400 Club's woman emcee's introduction.
This is the hoary cliche seen time & again of urban life & jazz as Colored Hell, & rural life as Colored Heaven.
The implication is that the Harlem renaissance & Duke Ellington were the result of the Devil's handiwork, & the "innocent" rurality of uneducated cottonpickers still in virtual slavery in the rural South as the work of God.
I'm a little surprised there wasn't an earlier rebellion against this stereotype, so that in heaven they's whistling "Mood Indigo" rather than "Dixie."
A torchy blues song is performed a mite out of tune by Miss Gussie Smith, an otherwise unidentified singer: "I've done all I could/ Trying to make you good/ You broke my heart just to pass the time away..."
Judas Green turns out to be a procurer intent on delivering Martha to a pimp. But just before she is prostituted, she regains her perspective, & flees the city with the pimp & patrons in pursuit.
Despite the primitive camera work & the dubious acting, there's a naive power to the tale of a soul's temptation.
But the image of jazz fans being driven into Hell in Satan's rusty old truck is funnier than intended, & salvation looks just about as goofy, when at the crossroads blood drips from a Jesus idol onto fainted Martha's face, effecting her resurrection.
The gospel music's sweet, a wide array of numbers such as "Good News" or "(Everbody's Talkin' 'bout) Hebbin, Hebbin" by the Reverand R. L. Robertson & the Heaveny Choir, plus many spirituals arranged by Henry Thacker Burleigh.
The Blood of Jesus is on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for its cultural significance. It was the first & about the best film by comedian & uneven director Spencer Williams.
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