GIRL FROM CHICAGO, THE (director/writer: Oscar Micheaux; screenwriter: based on the unpublished novel “Jeff Ballinger’s Woman” by Oscar Micheaux; cast: Alonso White (Carl Mahan), Starr Calloway (Norma Shepard), John Everett (Jeff Ballinger), Juano Hernandez (Gomez), Grace Smith (The Chicago Girl, Liza), Eunice Brooks (Mary Austin); Runtime: 69; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Oscar Micheaux; Facets Video; 1932)
“Though one of Micheaux’s most famous films it is not one of his best.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This unsatisfying melodrama is a reworking of Oscar Micheaux’s (“Lying Lips”) 1926 silent The Spider’s Web. It’s promoted as a race film with an all-black cast meant to play to a black audience. The film is controversial because Micheaux was accused of casting his stars on the basis of their “light skin color.” Though one of Micheaux’s most famous films it is not one of his best. The crime thriller had amateur performances, poor production values, an uninteresting story and the plot line was muddled.
Carl Mahan (Alonso White) is a handsome young U.S. Secret Service agent, who just returns from a refresher course at Scotland Yard and is assigned a case in the small town of Batesburg, Mississippi. At the boarding house of Mary Austin (Eunice Brooks), Alonso meets new schoolteacher Norma Shepard (Starr Calloway) and begins courting her. Jeff Ballinger (John Everett) is the local crime boss Alonzo was assigned to shadow. Ballinger shoots his girlfriend Liza (Grace Smith), but she refuses to press charges. But when Ballinger has sexual designs on Norma, Alonso comes to her rescue and arrests him. Wrapping up the case with enough evidence to put the nasty crime boss behind bars, Alonzo talks Norma into moving with him to Harlem and “letting the good times roll.” The couple enjoy the vibrant nightlife in the nightclubs, especially at the Radium Club. Landlady Mary Austin also moves to Harlem and gets hooked on playing the numbers. When Mary hits a $20 bet on the number, the Cuban numbers banker and owner of the Radium Club, Gomez (Juano Hernandez), plans on skipping town rather than paying such a big payoff. But before Gomez can flee, his nightclub singer girlfriend Liza, the same Liza from Batesburg, accuses him of running off with her share of the loot and cold-bloodedly guns him down. When Mary comes by to collect her money, she’s spotted by one of the runners and later is charged with the crime. Mary is convicted and set to die in the electric chair, while Alonzo continues on the case believing Mary is innocent. Alonzo tracks Liza down on a luxury cruise to Bermuda, who when asked where she’s from replies: “I’m from Chicago.” Liza has the film’s most naughty line, as she tells suitor Alonzo: “You can park your chewing gum on my instep anytime.” Soon Alonzo breaks Liza down as the killer and rescues Mary in the nick of time from her death sentence.
REVIEWED ON 9/26/2004 GRADE: D
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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