Friday, July 22, 2016


Bob Blake (Herb Jeffries), singing "I’m a Happy Cowboy," and his band of merry cowboys head to the Joe Jackson ranch. Joe and his dad have been pressured to sell their ranch to Buck Thorn, but they've refused. Joe's dad disappeared and was later found dead; now Joe has vanished as well, and his sister Betty is worried. At Joe's ranch, the slightly ditzy Dusty is befuddled by a talking mule that ranch hand Slim owns—what Dusty doesn't know, but eventually figures out, is that Slim is using ventriloquism to make the mule talk. Dusty and another of Bob's buddies mosey into town and stop at the saloon, hoping to get some information about Joe. After the entire bar of poker players sings "Almost Time for Roundup," the thuggish Pete shoots a cheating player dead and then proceeds to humiliate poor old Dusty by making him smoke four cigars at once. Bob comes to his rescue, and that sets the pace for the rest of the plot: people get in trouble and Bob saves the day. At one point, poor Dusty loses all his clothes in a poker game and even Bob can't help him out. It turns out that Buck knows there's gold on Joe's land and he has kidnapped Joe in order to get his land. At the climactic showdown, Slim's ventriloquism trick comes in handy for the good guys.

This B-western starring a singing cowboy is very much like any other of the era except it's got an all-black cast and, as a "race film," was produced on a much lower budget than even the mainstream Hollywood B-movies of the era. But it's certainly watchable for western fans. Herb Jeffries (called Herbert Jeffrey in the credits), also a singer for Duke Ellington's band, is fine in the lead role—this is the second of three Bob Blake movies he made. The rest of the acting is par for the course, with F. E Miller as the devious Slim deserving mention. Singing group the Four Tones provide the backing voices as the rest of Bob’s men. The movie’s chief downfall is in the staging of the fight scenes; the bar fisticuffs come off as amateurish, not just in the ineffective punches thrown but in the decidedly weak and muffled sound effects of the fists hitting flesh (which we can clearly see them not doing). Pictured above are Jeffries (in the middle) and Lucius Brooks as Dusty (at left). [TCM]

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