DAY 13. DO YOU FEEL LUCKY, PUNK?: A film about luck; good, bad or ugly.
William Beaudine — as we discussed back when we watched Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter — came back from England in 1937 and had a rough time re-establishing himself with American studios. He ended up directing all-black films, realizing that when he did, he’d never reach the heights of fame he was at before.
Lucky Ghost was made a half-decade later, a sequel to Mr. Washington Goes to Town. It concerns the continuing adventures of Washington Delaware Jones (Mantan Moreland, the messenger in Spider Baby and a man considered to take over for Shemp in The Three Stooges in 1955), who has been such a strain on his hometown that a judge banishes him. As he travels to find a new place to live, he brings along Jefferson (F.E. Miller, who made several all black movies like Harlem on the Prairie, Harlem Rides the Range and The Bronze Buckaroo).
Neither man has any experience nor do they much like to work, so they decide to be food tasters. Their career path starts with impersonating food inspectors and stealing chickens, which gets them shot at.
The two then play craps with a rich man named Brown and two of his friends, cleaning them all out and getting a fancy car out of the deal. They travel to the country club of Dr. Brutus Blake, a con artist who wants to steal their money and keep Washington away from the club’s hostess.
That’s when we learn that Blake’s relatives haunt the joint and they’re none too happy about how he is turning out. But even when our heroes defeat Blake and win his club, the place is just as sinful and decadent as it’s ever been. So the ghosts en masse begin to haunt the club, sending the twosome of Washington and Jefferson running for their lives as the ghosts bemoan all of the “jitterbugging, jiving, and hullaballooing” and begins slamming doors and even playing the drums.
Race films — as they were called — featured parts for actors that never really got the chance to be anything other than servants.
Moreland is a great example, as he was mostly known for his role as chauffeur Birmingham Brown in the Charlie Chan films. He also worked with Ben Carter (who was replaced by Nipsey Russell in the 1950’s) and was inducted into the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame in 2004.
F.E. Miller is considered one of the seminal figures in the development of African American musical theater on Broadway and was posthumously nominated for a Tony Award in 1979 for his contributions.