Friday, February 26, 2010


Trumpet player Prince Ellis is going to Hollywood and a lot of folks are unhappy with him: his wife Cleo is about to become his ex-wife and lose out on a share of his money; club singer Maxine, his mistress, hasn’t been asked to come along; John, his musical arranger, is upset because Prince has designs on his young daughter Mae, claiming he will send for her after his divorce becomes final. Finally, reporter Biff Boyd isn’t happy about being sent to interview him. Before Prince can leave town, someone throws a knife at him and he drops dead, though the police discover that he was actually killed with poison which was applied to the mouthpiece of his trumpet. As if there weren’t enough suspects, Biff and his girlfriend Linda discover a couple more: Chet, the MC at Prince’s nightclub, had a thing for Maxine, and Prince's valet Buck had a sister who killed herself after Prince dumped her. Suddenly, after a performance, Maxine drops dead on the club floor. Can Biff, Linda and the cops find the killer before he or she strikes again?

This would be a typical poverty row-mystery of the era except for two elements: 1) it has an all-black cast; 2) a good chunk of the last half of the movie is taken up with some solid swing jazz performances, a notch above the kind you would find in a higher-budgeted B-film from a major studio. I'd never heard of the musicians (The Four Toppers and Ceepee Johnson's Orchestra) but the songs, though given modest, no-frills productions, are worth not fast-forwarding through. The Four Toppers' "Jump, The Water's Fine" is especially fun and sounds as good as any vocal swing number of the day. The script is OK, though as with many a low-budget picture, much of the action happens off-screen or is delivered as exposition through dialogue. The acting of the leads (Monte Hawley as Biff, Marguerite Whitten as Linda) is strictly B-level, but some of the supporting actors are quite good, especially Jess Lee Brooks, coming off as a cross between Edward Arnold and James Earl Jones as the arranger, and Alfred Grant (pictured) as Chet, the MC. Vaudeville performer F.E. Miller is given "featured" status in the credits as a cop known as Sgt. Slim; he's mostly comic relief, but he winds up a hero in the end. Good fun, as long as you know not to expect a glossy MGM effort. [TCM]

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