Before drive-in exploitation filmmaker Ron Ormond found faith and made a series of films with Southern Baptist pastor Estus Pirkle (The Burning Hell), there was this early “Christploitation” classic, a low-budget concern with an all-Black cast (and crew) regarding a newly baptized, Baptist-believing woman accidentally shot by her atheist husband. Upon her death, she’s greeted by an angel who takes her to the Crossroads of Life. The story, intelligently, turns into a parable based on the tale of Blues musician Robert Johnson’s trip to the crossroads (and other Southern Baptist folk tales), as the Devil (a great James B. Jones) temps her with the sins of the big city.
Sure, the against-the-budget, student film productions values — shot for $5,000 ($91,000 in 2021) — are crude and the actors aren’t pros, but this “race film” packs a powerful punch.
The Blood of Jesus was written and directed by Spenser Williams, a black actor who got his start in the late 1920s in a series of “roadhouse” shorts. He worked his way up to a starring role as “Andy” in CBS-TV’s, 78-episode, three-year (1951-1953) adaptation of Chicago WMAQ-AM’s long-running radio comedy Amos n’ Andy (1928-1960). The radio show was, of course as common for the times, voiced by white actors. Beginning his writing and directing career at the same time he began his acting career, Jackson augmented his 30-plus acting credits as a writer of eight films and as a director of thirteen.
He made his directing debut with the 10-minute comedy short Hot Biskits (1931) about two-men in a high stakes golf game. He followed the hour-long The Blood of Jesus with another faith-based film, Brother Martin (1942), which concerns the life Peruvian Martin de Porres, a late sixteenth-century believer (later elevated to sainthood in 1962 by Pope John XXIII). Spencer Jackson’s final feature film (a really fun watch) is the comedy Juke Joint (1947), which follows the Amos n’ Andy model of two con men trying to turn a buck as part of a small town beauty contest.
If there is any filmmaker who demands a restoration box set of his films (at least his efforts as a writer-director) or a biographical film (not a documentary, but a dramatic film on the level of say, Richard Attenborough’s 1992 Chaplin homage to British Comedian Charlie Chaplin), Spenser Williams is it.
Make it happen, Hollywood. In fact, Will Smith, if you’re reading this: make that movie.
You can You Tube “The Blood of Jesus 1941” to discover several uploads of your choosing, but here’s one of them. I implore you watch this film. And I need to stop talking about his movie, before I start to cry.
Justifiably, this film was added to the National Film Register in 1991, as this is a culturally significant document on the beginning the the black film industry. It’s powerful, magnificent stuff. A beautiful film that crushes it. Watch it. Then watch it again. Just watching this five minute preview clip on You Tube won’t be enough.