TWO GUN MAN FROM HARLEM
(director/writer: Richard Kahn; cinematographer: Harvey Gould/Marcel Le Picard; editor: William Faris; music: Herb Jeffries; cast: Herb Jeffries (Bob Blake/The Deacon), Clarence Brooks (John Barker), Margaret Whitten (Sally Thompson), Mantan Moreland (Bill Blake), Tom Southern (John Steele), Mae Turner (Ruth Steele), Matthew “Stymie” Beard (Jimmy Thompson), Spencer Williams (Butch Carter), Jesse Lee Brooks (Sheriff); Runtime: 60; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Richard C. Kahn/Alfred N. Sack; Timeless Video Inc.; 1938)
“This popular all-black Western production hits the same spot that similar ‘B’ type of white Westerns do.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Financed by a white entrepreneur, Alfred Sachs, this popular all-black Western production hits the same spot that similar ‘B’ type of white Westerns do. These films made in the late 1930s and early 1940s were called affectionately “race movies” because they had an all-black cast and audience. “Two Gun Man” was filmed on a shoestring budget at N.B. Murray’s African-American dude ranch near Victorville, California, and featured popular black entertainer Herb Jeffries who was recruited as a star from his LA nightclub stint as a singer. The star reminded me of the singing cowboy Gene Autry. Jeffries sang his own I’m a Happy Cowboy accompanied by The Cats and the Fiddle, an African-American hillbilly group. The Four Tones also sang when the film moved to a Harlem setting.
Bob Blake (Herb Jeffries) is a ranch foreman out West who gets framed for the murder of his boss John Steele (Tom Southern). Ruth (Mae Turner), the loose wife of Bob’s boss, comes on to him but he rejects her advances. Later that same day Ruth’s boyfriend kills her hubby when he catches them in the act of kissing in his home. Returning from a visit to nice girl and town newcomer and love interest Sally (Margaret Whitten) and her talkative little brother Jimmy’s (“Stymie” Beard) ranch, Bob discovers his boss dying. Ruth switches guns when Bob’s not looking and he gets framed for the murder when the sheriff (Jesse Lee Brooks) arrives. Bob, then, with the help of his brother Bill escapes and hitches a ride to Harlem. While there he disguises himself as a gunslinging deacon whose motto is that “I preach the gospel, brother — gun gospel!” He arrives back in his hometown disguised as the deacon to do some detective work and uncovers the murderer by saving the kidnapped Ruth from being killed by Butch Carter, someone the killer of Mr. Steele hired for $2,000 to bump off. Ruth, the only witness to her husband’s killing, blabs to the sheriff what really happened when she discovers her boyfriend put out a contract on her.
Keep an eye out for Mantan Moreland as Jeffries’ comedian ranch cook brother Bill and on Spencer Williams, the future “Andy” of television’s Amos ‘n Andy and noted director of many so-called race movies, as Butch Carter the killer’s hired hand.
The film was entertaining but had very limited production values, the acting was stiff, Jeffries’ visit to Harlem made no sense, the fighting scenes were just awful and the plotline involving a deacon’s disguise was very amateurishly accomplished. Yet these films had a special meaning to the audience and were very happily received.
REVIEWED ON 3/28/2004 GRADE: C