GO DOWN, DEATH! (director/writer: Spencer Williams; screenwriters: Sam Elljay/from a poem by James Weldon Johnson/from a story by Jean Roddy; cinematographer: H.W. Kier; editor: L.J. Powell; cast: Spencer Williams (Big Jim Bottoms), Myra Hemmings (Sister Caroline); Runtime: 57; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alfred N. Sack; Facets Video; 1944)
“Worth seeing for historical reasons and because Spencer Williams is a great artistic director who never got his just due in a race conscious America.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A newly arrived black preacher in town and his fiancée Sister Caroline (Myra Hemmings) stir up animosity with their preaching against corruption. The preacher is wrongly accused of immorality in the Deep South and dies a martyr. He was framed by local gangster Big Jim Bottoms (Williams) when he discovers that his juke joint is no longer thriving and arranges for the preacher to be photographed in a compromising position with three attractive women. But thecrime boss finds himself tortured by his guilty conscience by the film’s conclusion. Big Jim gets his comeuppance with a nightmarish vision of Hell, that is brilliantly filmed as a fantasy.
It’s a social issue drama largely inspired by James Weldon Johnson’s poem. Spencer Williams (the Amos on the 1950s Amos and Andy TV show) directs and stars, as he aims his camera from the point of view of the black Southerner and how they experience their religion. The interesting guilt-fantasy scene at the end of the picture, showing the affects this traditional kind of religion has on all who grew up on it, gives the film an artistic touch that makes it rise above the level of the ordinary such racial tragedy story. This is what was called in its day a ‘race film,’ featuring an all-Negro cast.
Spencer Williams along with Oscar Micheaux were pioneering African-American filmmakers of the 1940s. They directed all-black features that played in the segregated south to an all-black audience and were usually produced by white men (in this film’s case Alfred N. Sack provided the limited financial backing). This film like many of William’s other films explored religious faith in a world where his people were second-class citizens and for the most part only had their faith to sustain them.
Worth seeing for historical reasons and because Spencer Williams is a great artistic director who never got his just due in a race conscious America.
REVIEWED ON 2/6/2004 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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