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DUKE IS TOPS, THE (aka: THE BRONZE VENUS) (director: William L. Nolte; screenwriter: Phil Dunham; cinematographers: Robert C. Cline/J. Henry Kruse; editor: Alice Greenwood; music: Harvey Brooks/Ben Ellison; cast: Ralph Cooper (Duke Davis), Lena Horne (Ethel), Lawrence Criner (Doc Dorando), Monte Hawley (George Marshall), Vernon McCalla (Mason)), Edward Thompson (Ferdie Fenton), Neva Peoples (Ella); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Harry M. Popkin/Leo C. Popkin; Facets; 1938)
“An all-black film made in the 1930s that costars the 21-year-old Lena Horne, in her first film role.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An all-black film made in the 1930s that costars the 21-year-old Lena Horne, in her first film role. The Duke is Tops was made for “colored” theatres, the only place it played when released. The music is sweet, the familiar story is dreadful and the acting is stilted. But for nostalgia buffs it has colorful performers such as the mostly forgotten jazzmen like Rubber Neck Holmes, Willie Covan and the Basin Street Boy. It’s directed by veteran B Western filmmaker William L. Nolte (“Life Goes On”) and written by Phil Dunham.

New York booking agent George Marshall (Monte Hawley) promises small-time producer of a traveling musical revue, Duke Davis (Ralph Cooper, a one-time Apollo Theatre MC who originated the Apollo’s famous amateur nights), he will launch the career of his client and sweetheart Ethel Andrew (Lena Horne) in the Gay White Way, but the catch is that he wants no part of Duke. Because he cares for Ethel, Duke consents and Ethel goes on to star in a Broadway show, but because of a misunderstanding deserts Duke. As Duke’s career spirals downward, he becomes destitute and to support himself he must take a job as a barker for the con man Doc Dorando’s traveling medicine show. When Ethel’s latest show flops because of mismanagement, Duke reunites with her and their misunderstanding is cleared up. It ends on a high note, with the rejuvenated Duke preparing to produce Ethel’s newest Broadway show.

REVIEWED ON 10/20/2008 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”