In Chloe, Love is Calling You (1934), the old conjure woman Mandy (Georgette Harvey) returns with her daughter Chloe (Olive Borden) to their bayou home after fifteen years. Chloe was too young to remember much about the bayou, but once Mandy had been a famous voodoo priestess in these parts. But after the whites lynched her husband Sam, she took her little girl & moved away into the Everglades. She seems to have gone a little mad in the intervening years & has returned swearing a belated vengeance against the murdering white folks.
Chloe is a "high yaller" gal who could pass for white. She's a little ashamed of her obese fat conjurin' mother & dreams of crossing over to the white world & passing. Jim (Philip Ober, very miscast since he's not a lick black) is Chloe's yaller boyfriend & a pretty decent fellow, but she falls for the first white man to give her a long look. The object of her instant affection is the yankee Wade (Reed Howes) who was hired from up north to run the turpentine plant.
The plant is the biggest employer of black folk on the bayou & is owned by the white family that got Mandy's husband murdered. Many of the workers have grievances against that family but the most they can do is have voodoo rituals around bonfires, effecting nothing. When Mandy turns up anew, the hoodoo men are glad to see her, because now maybe their power will be enough to add up to something.
I really liked Mandy whose anger at whites for lynching her man is about as strong a justification as anyone can have for hate. As an actress Georgette Harvey gives the character greater depth than was actually in the script. Being largely on her side, & happy to encounter such an interesting character actress, I was truly disappointed that she is bit by bit revealed to be a true villain.
It turns out Chloe is not a yaller gal after all, but a real white girl whom Mandy kidnapped from the Colonel's family fifteen years before. Chloe had so greatly wanted to be white so is oh-so-happy to learn she is really Betty Ann suddenly fit to marry Wade.
There are still those who question Chloe/Betty Ann's racial background. Further evidence that she's white will be forthcoming. But first the voodoo practicing bayou blacks have got to kidnap Chloe & deliver her to Mandy during a dance-filled voodoo ceremony, with murderous Mandy eager to sacrifice the white girl on the altar of her revenge.
Jim being himself part white is permitted to be heroic, & tries to save Chloe from Mandy & her horde of evil darkies, only to be killed along the way. That leaves only Wade & some other honkies to save the white girl from pagan sacrifice.
The film descends into such a depth of racist stereotyping that it fails utterly to think of its situation in any terms that make sense. Could Mandy after having been a mother to that girl for fifteen years really feel nothing for her? Could Chloe be such a coldhearted cracker that once she realizes she has no black blood after all that she would have no lingering feelings whatsoever for Mandy or for the black people set-upon by whites for being voodoo practioners?
Is it really a good thing that a lynching should not be avenged & nobody ever brought to justice while an aggrieved priestess of the swamp gets depicted as the epitome of dastardliness & dementia? Are the only good darkies house slaves like Ben & yallers like Jim, & to be really black means you gotta be thieves with a hankering to do jungle bunny dancing & witchcraft & murder of innocent white girls?
Instead of the story development into anything credible or logical, we're just supposed to be happy Betty Ann is provably completely white, hooray hooray.
If it sounds like there couldn't be any possible reason to seek this film out, well, there are perhaps three reasons to do so. First is the chance to see the largest of the rare performances of Georgette Harvey, who had the potential of being a great character player had such opportunity not been denied blacks. Second is to study the history of blacks & the depth of racism in American filmmaking. And third is an interlude featuring the wonderful music of the Shreveport Home Wreckers.
The Shreveport Home Wreckers featured Louisiana street musician Oscar "Buddy the Lone Wolf" Woods of Shreveport, Louisiana, a pioneer of slide guitar blues, with impressive recordings in the Library of Congress's American folk music collection. The other regular member of the band was guitarist Ed Schaffer, whose recordings with country singer Jimmie Davis are the earliest known mixed race recordings in America. I wish I knew for sure who that great washboard performer was; I'd appreciate it if someone could let me know.
The patience-testing but intriguing chitlin circuit race film The Devil's Daughter (1939) likewise works into the plot the idea of an impotent ill-intending voodoo conjure woman.
Both of these films are sometimes categorized as "horror" because of the voodoo ingredient, but they're really dramas or thrillers & there's nothing particularly scary about voodoo except that black people do it. If white people did it, it'd be categorized a religioius theme.
The heroine of the piece, Sylvia Walton, is played by the fresh-faced innocent beauty Ida James, who was also a noted jazz singer. As Sylvia, Ida's playing a sophisticated city girl returning to claim her inheritance, a banana plantation in the Carribean.
Her half-sister Isabella Walton (Nina Mae McKinney) never left the plantation, had run it in their father's old age, & believed she should have inherited it. Though good-natured Sylvia planned to share everything, Isabella nevertheless conspires against her, turning even to phony witchcraft trying to frighten Sylvia back to America & Harlem.
South Carolinian McKinney as an actress has a very great glamorousness with a large dose of girl-next-door sweetness which makes her a little hard to accept as the "bad" sister. But that's what she has to play, & she's a rivetting performer even in this dog of a race movie.
She was the star of the first all-black all-sound feature, King Vidor's Hallelujah! (1929). Faced with career limitations due to racism, she eventually went to Europe, where she became a well known cabaret performer sometimes billed as "the black Garbo."
Devil's Daughter is lively with stereotyped activities like singing', laughin', jungle drummin', dancin', gamblin', cheatin' & hoodoo practicin'. Being filmed on location it's interesting to see the Jamaican countryside, & there's also some right good music in the thing.
Sylvia's leading man is Jack Carter as Philip. Her servant is comic relief actor James Carl "Hamtree" Harrington. He plays Percy "Harlem Boy" Jackson, who brought his jivin' jitterbug ways with him into the tropics.
I didn't like this movie much, but I was glad of the chance to see McKinney & some of the character actors on the side, despite what they had to play.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl