Sunday, January 18, 2015

Minstrel Man (1944)

Above-average PRC musical drama about a blackface minstrel (Benny Fields) who abandons his newborn daughter after his wife dies in childbirth. He leaves the infant in the care of his best friends and disappears from her life for years until he learns that his daughter, now a teenager, is set to star in a revival of his old "Minstrel Man" show on Broadway, and is reunited with her on stage.

Aside from singing some pleasant songs by Paul Webster and Harry Revel, crooner Benny Fields does not make much of an impression in this, his only dramatic starring role. He seems ill at ease playing the dramatic scenes, though the reservation in his performance probably works to the advantage of some of the moments of high melodrama -- such as receiving the news of his wife's death, or encountering his estranged daughter -- which are actually rather nicely understated. When he's given the chance to sing though, Fields shines.

Stylishly directed by Joseph H. Lewis (who took over from Edgar G. Ulmer, who reportedly directed the first several days of filming), there are some interesting camera moves, including a particularly well-executed crane shot on a pair of dancers in the Havana sequence and an effective high-angle shot in an early theater scene. Lewis' direction is a fine example of the craftsmanship that makes even a Poverty Row quickie like this visually compelling.

No comments: