A female doctor with an unfriendly reputation changes her will to benefit a newlywed couple after being invited to the ceremony. She also keeps a strange ape man in her secret basement laboratory that breaks free and kills her after drinking one of her experiments.
This is often cited as the first ‘all black horror movie’ from the days when these features were known as ‘race films’. The honour is in dispute, however, with some other, earlier examples (mostly featuring voodoo) challenging for that honour. What is sure, however, is that this has absolutely nothing to do with African adventure ‘Ingagi’ (1930), beyond stealing the name for box office purposes.
The story is basically an ‘old dark house’ type mystery and the brainchild of Spencer Williams (who later went on to fame – or is that infamy? – as part of the ‘Amos and Andy’ show on U.S. network television). Here, he also takes the part of the comic relief policeman, who antics seem strangely at odds with the more horrific aspects of the proceedings. Although the cast is all black, the director was a white man, Richard C. Kahn.
The most obvious feature here is the inevitable cheapness of the whole enterprise. Action is confined to 3 or 4 small sets and a few outside shots and the principal cast is small. Respected actress Laura Bowman plays the doctor and Daisy Bufford is a lively presence as the bride. Their interaction provides the most interesting plot point. The bride did not know her parents and doesn’t even have any photographs of them. The doctor is leaving her money to the young couple but she was an old friend of the girl’s father, who she knew very well. The obvious inference here is that the doctor is actually the girl’s mother and she was born out of wedlock but this is only suggested and never becomes part of the story development. Perhaps the inference was enough for audiences at the time.The ape man is poorly rendered (just a normal guy with some kind of hairy mask) and his frequent entries into the action through the inevitable secret passage becomes rather tiresome. This also includes a rather dire comic segment involving the policeman and a disappearing sandwich. Some lively entertainment is provided by musical group ‘The Four Toppers’ who prove to be good value at the post-wedding party.
In essence, this is a project not so much important in itself as for its cultural significance. It’s really nice to see black people on the screen at this time in history as normal, ordinary men and women, rather than as mugging, idiotic stereotypes used for comic effect. So this film may not be that good – and it isn’t – but films like it still served an important, if small, role in promoting social change.