Wednesday, June 08, 2016


Prince Alihabad, a turban-wearing mystic, has come to perform in a small Oklahoma town, staying at the home of the respectable Mr. & Mrs. Wilson and their 20-something daughter Margaret who has become enamored with the prince, much to the annoyance of her boyfriend Buster. Mr. Wilson owns oil-rich land in Texas which he plans to give to Margaret; when he tells the prince this, we see that Buster is also listening in, as is a figure outside in the dark. Alihabad tries to talk Margaret into eloping with him, but at the last minute, she decides not to. That night, we see someone sneak into the Wilsons' bedroom, dose them with something to keep them asleep, and steal the deed to the oil well. The next morning, Mr. Wilson is found dead—the sleeping potion hurt his weak heart—and the police are on the case. Tagging along is Junior Lingley, a bumbling detective wannabe who dresses up occasionally as Sherlock Holmes, and his slightly less bungling buddy Lightfoot.

This is one of those "race films" of the 30s and 40s with an all-black cast, produced by an independent company on a budget lower even than the Poverty-Row Hollywood films of the era. In that context, this is a decent little mystery, even with the following strikes against it: some truly terrible, amateurish acting (especially from Florence Redd as Margaret); cheap looking sets; a badly plotted mystery story (the culprit is a character we don't really know); and poor editing. But if a viewer can get past all that, there are some pluses: the mystery is interesting before it gets muddled, some of the dialogue is fun—when a police sergeant is criticized for not thinking enough about a clue, he replies, "Lady, I'm not paid to think—our job is finding out"; Richard Bates (think Jimmie Walker) as the bumbling Lingely is a bad actor but still gets a few laughs especially in his Sherlock Holmes deerstalker and with his obsession with fingerprints; two actors do fine jobs: Buck Woods as Lightfoot and John Criner as the prince. Also acting like pros are Jesse Lee Brooks as a cop, Ollie Ann Robinson as Mrs. Wilson, and Ruby Dandridge (mother of Dorothy Dandridge) as Lingely's mother. The bad guy is caught, but the conclusion is strangely inconclusive in a number of ways. Still, I'm not sorry to have caught this rarity on Turner Classic Movies. Pictured are Buck Woods and Richard Bates.

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