CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK (director: Melville Brown; screenwriters: story by Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby/J. Walter Ruben; cinematographer: William Marshall; editor: Claude Berkeley; music: Max Steiner/Harry Ruby/Harry Akst; cast: Freeman F. Gosden (Amos), Charles J. Correll (Andy), Sue Carol (Jean Blair), Irene Rich (Mrs. Blair), Ralf Harold (Ralph Crawford), Charles S. Morton (Richard Williams), Edward Martindel (John Blair), Rita La Roy (Elinor Crawford), Russ Powell (Kingfish); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William LeBaron; RKO; 1930)
“The film works as a curio to see how the blacks were perceived back then by Hollywood.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
When viewed today, this is an embarrassing racial stereotyped Hollywood film, where the two leads are white actors in blackface and their characterizations depict them as not-too-bright schemers who are lazy and their speech mangles the English language. The film works as a curio to see how the blacks were perceived back then by Hollywood. The film is based on the popular Amos ‘N’ Andy radio show, the highest rated show at the time, that stretched across three decades until the 1950s. In the 1950s it was put on television in a series, but wisely had African-American actors play the leads. But even that wasn’t enough to stop the controversy, as protests from the NAACP led to its cancellation after two seasons. Also, the studio must have realized something was wrong (there were some protests from the black community) because they made no more Amos ‘N’ Andy films even though this film did well at the box office. Duke Ellington (his feature film debut) appears as himself and thereby the suave bandleader avoids any racist characterizations.
Amos and Andy (Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll) are Harlem-based cabdrivers recently arriving from Georgia, with the derby wearing and domineering Andy the president and the passive Amos as the driver of the one decrepit cab from their “Fresh Air Taxicab Company.” The plot centers around the white Richard Williams (Charles S. Morton) visiting his late father’s friend from Georgia, the wealthy Mr. Blair (Edward Martindel) now living in the New York suburban community of Hartsdale, as Richard is in need of money and hopes to secure the deed of his grandfather’s abandoned elegant old house in Harlem (at one time a haven for rich white folks) to save him from financial ruin. After not seeing Blair’s daughter Jean (Sue Carol) for many years, he’s surprised at how pretty and sweet she is as an adult. They quickly fall in love, though Jean is pursued by the creepy fellow socialite Ralph Crawford (Ralf Harold). Ralph overhears Richard telling Mr. Blair his plans of getting the deed tomorrow that’s probably still in the mansion and schemes to go there that night so he can get the deed first and thereby prevent Richard from having enough money to marry the girl he wants to marry. Kingfish (Russ Powell), a friend of the cabdrivers and the president of their lodge, the “Mystic Knights of the Sea,” arranges for the lodge brothers to bring Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra to Hartsdale to play at the evening socialite party the Blairs are giving. The cabdrivers run into Richard, and fondly remember him from Georgia and say his “poppa treated them as if they were his children” when they worked for him. They depart planning to meet later, as old friends (falsely indicating relations between the races in the south was just peachy back in the days of Jim Crow).
That night at their lodge meeting the cabbies get chosen to participate in a secret ritual to honor the lodge’s founder, who was lost at sea, as they are asked to go on a “night watch” where they are locked in the Williams’s vacant house from midnight to one a.m. and have to locate a piece of paper that says “check and double check” to prove they were there and then must hide a similar “check and double check” paper for the following year’s participants. While there they hear noises and think the house is haunted (a stereotyped racial scene of blacks scared to be in a haunted house), but soon someone pulls a gun on them and demands the valuable piece of paper they have in their possession. That party is Ralph and his burglar friend, as Ralph heads back to Hartsdale unaware that the cabdrivers gave him the piece of paper marked “check and double check” and kept the deed. When Richard searches the mansion the next day and can’t find the deed, he tells Mr. Blair he doesn’t have enough dough to marry his fine daughter and leaves for Georgia. But when the cabbies realize they gave the burglar the wrong piece of paper, which disappoints them, and see the Williams’s name on the deed they rush in their broken-down cab to catch Richard at Penn Station before he departs and Richard thereby stays in the city and marries Jean.
Taste changes with time (Variety in their 1930 review called it “The best picture for children ever put on the screen,” which makes you wonder what they were thinking). Amos ‘N’ Andy were once the public’s darlings and thought of as hilarious, but today their comedy act seems weak (they have gags that are built around the theme of ‘let’s make fun of the dumb Negroes,’ such as the reading impaired Andy telling Amos that “D-e-e-d” spells “Dead”), their characterizations are obviously racist and the film can hardly be recommended but as something that should be seen so it can be commented on.
REVIEWED ON 5/11/2006 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ