Black Moon (1934, Roy William Neill)

Before getting into all the great things about Black Moon, I need to talk about the racism. There’s the general thirties racism, with the black sidekick (Clarence Muse) being constantly cartoonish. But the film’s entire plot is racist–it’s about a Caribbean island full of voodoo cult natives who’ve brainwashed a white woman (Dorothy Burgess). According to Moon, American blacks are fine. The Caribbean ones? Unthinkably savage. Oh, and the Black in the title? Veiled reference to Burgess being a race traitor.

Those incredibly uncomfortable elements aside, the film’s beautifully made and often wonderfully acted. Jack Holt plays Burgess’s husband, who has no idea his wife is a sleeper agent for a voodoo cult. Holt’s excellent in the leading role; he and Muse do quite well together.

Cora Sue Collins plays Holt and Burgess’s daughter. She’s excellent too.

Burgess has the most difficult role and has ups and downs, but hits an incredible high point near the end.

As Holt’s adoring secretary, Fay Wray has almost nothing to do. She’s okay, but her character doesn’t belong in the script. Logically speaking, Muse’s character should have gotten that time.

The film’s weakest performance is Arnold Korff. He’s never able to sell the plot twists and revelations. But he’s not bad, just not on par with the others.

Technically speaking, Neill’s direction, Joseph H. August’s photography and Louis Silvers’s score make Moon an exceptional picture. The final sequence is unexpected and masterful.

The racism damages Moon, but it still deserves a look.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Roy William Neill; screenplay by Wells Root, based on a story by Clements Ripley; director of photography, Joseph H. August; edited by Richard Cahoon; music by Louis Silvers; produced by Harry Cohn; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jack Holt (Stephen Lane), Fay Wray (Gail Hamilton), Dorothy Burgess (Juanita Perez Lane), Cora Sue Collins (Nancy Lane), Arnold Korff (Dr. Raymond Perez), Clarence Muse (‘Lunch’ McClaren), Eleanor Wesselhoeft (Anna, the nursemaid), Madame Sul-Te-Wan (Ruva), Laurence Criner (Kala, the priest), Lumsden Hare (John Macklin) and Henry Kolker (The Psychiatrist).


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