Monday, May 09, 2011

CHLOE (1934)

After fifteen years away, Mandy returns to the swamp near the Colonel's turpentine plantation seeking revenge for the lynching of her husband Sam (for which, as we find out, the Colonel wasn't actually responsible). Jim ferries Mandy and her mixed-race daughter Chloe down the river to Mandy's old shack which has been empty all this time--though Mandy, a voodoo practitioner who talks to animals, believes that a bat she finds in the shack is the soul of Sam. While Mandy plots her revenge, the mild-mannered mixed-race Jim falls in love with Chloe, but she falls in love with Wade, a white man who is works with the Colonel. (Wade meets her when he and Jim save her from an assault by a drunk who leers at her and says, "High yellow! That always was my meat!") The Colonel hears rumors of Mandy's plot but dismisses them, proclaiming that voodoo is just "a mixture of savagery, gin, mumbo-jumbo and drumbeats"--to which his niece replies, "Sounds like the menu at Sing-Sing!" Well, it turns out that Chloe is really the Colonel's daughter, originally named Betty Ann, whom he had assumed drowned in a tragic accident as a child--it was really Mandy's daughter who died, but Mandy took Betty Ann as her own and let others think it was Betty Ann who died). When all this is about to be revealed, Mandy kidnaps Chloe to use in a voodoo sacrifice. The presence in the woods of the drunken would-be rapist complicates matters; can Jim and/or Wade save our heroine?

That’s a lot of plot for a Poverty Row movie that doesn't even run an hour. Most of the film is rather laughable (even more laughable is that has a reputation as a horror movie simply because it involves voodoo), but the sexual and racial politics are interesting, to say the least. For starters, Chloe (pictured above) is played by a white actress, Olive Borden, which does make some sense given what we discover about her parentage. Jim is treated as a black man but looks as white as Wade (Reed Howes), his rival. In fact, the actor who plays Jim is the white Philip Ober (married at one time to Vivian Vance). That leaves Georgette Harvey, as Mandy, and Richard Huey, as the Colonel's servant, as the only black actors in major roles here. Jim's a nice, good-looking guy, and whenever he shows up, we hear the theme song, "Love is Calling You," leading us to believe that he and Chloe will wind up together, but of course when it comes out that she's white, we know that Wade will win Chloe's heart--by which time she's reverted to being called Betty Ann. The circumstances behind Sam's lynching remain unclear, I thought deliberately, but probably due to sloppy writing. As far as the acting, Ober does a nice job in an understated style. Harvey commands the camera, but overdoes the nutty revenge stuff a bit. There is almost constant background music, which grows irritating. Still, this is one of those loony bits of "underground" old Hollywood that needs to be seen to be believed. [DVD]

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