Minstrel Man
MINSTREL MAN. 1944

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



Minstrel ManBenny Field, the titular star of Minstrel Man (1944), was never an A-list actor & he's not terribly interesting to see on the screen.

He's playing an old-time minstrel showman & if the point of the film had been to show that black-face minstrel shows had mediocre headliners, then it would've worked.

Unfortunately it's supposed to be fondly nostalgic for an entertainment form already regarded as passe, & there's simply no nostalgia to be found in such unthinking racism.

Field had been a vaudeville headliner, though even in those former day,s the real star of the act was his wife Blossom Seeley.

The recreation of blackface minstrelsy is certainly intriguing, in a gratingly irritating manner. It becomes crystal clear that it is no loss to audiences that white people pretending to be "darkies" singing "coon songs" is forever a thing of the past.

The tale is sappy to extreme, though not void of conviction. Benny as Dixie Boy Johnson loves Caroline (Molly Lamont), his wife of many years. But on opening night of his new big show, she dies in childbirth. The show must go on, though Dixie can never again sing his show-stopping "Remember Me to Carolina" which was really about his beloved.

Dixie becomes bitter & wants nothing to do with the infant who killed his beloved. He travels the world, gambles, lives a decadent life. He returns to Chicago after five years to pick up his career.

Minstrel ManDuring his brief time away, the talkies have arrived & there's very little call for blackface singers. He can get booked as warmp-up in cinema houses but he's no longer a headliner.

As for his kid, named Caroline after her mother, vaudevillians Lasses & Mae White (Roscoe Karns & Gladys George) raised Dixie's kid as their own.

At age five she's played by Gloria Petroff, who father Boris Petroff was a terrible, terrible Z-movie director who gave Gloria her closest thing to a claim to fame by casting her as "screaming woman" in The Unearthly (1957) making her one of the original scream queens.

Mae doesn't want the girl even knowing Dixie exists. When Dixie vanishes after a ship disaster, Lasses & Mae become guilt-ridden for having sent him away, & they decide to tell their foster daughter who her real dad was.

Dixie took advantage of the diaster to let people assume him lost at sea. He becomes Jack Carter, which seemed the best way never again to be asked to sing "Caroline." So his daughter grows up without him.

She's a bobby-soxer at age sixteent, & she's inherited a lot of her dad's talent. She's a beauty, a great singer, & she looks forward to being booked for a show.

Billed as Dixie Girl Johnson (Judy Clark), her act is heralded by critics as the rebirth of minstrelsy. A sixteen year old girl in blackface might be an imrpovement over the original, but still fairly lame. But with the "jazzed up" songs, the music at least is reasonably good. even garnering an Oscar nomination, but not winning.

The original tunes were composed by Paul Francis Webster & Harry Revel. In the course of the story we get Benny Fields singing "Cindy" & "I Don't Care if the World Knows About It" wich Judy Clark reprises in jazzier tempo.

Benny sings several additional songs, the George Norton & Ernie Burnett composition "Come to Me My Melancholy Baby" the most memorable. Dancer Jack Boyle dances to the blackface chorus's rendition of J. R. Robinson's "Minstrel Man," in the Havana show, the Cuban dance team the Anestos perform.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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