Go Down Death (1942)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Early Black Cinema, Religious Drama  |   Run Time - 57 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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Spencer Williams, one of the most important African-American filmmakers of the 1940s (along with Oscar Micheaux), directed this all-black feature, which, like many of his films, explored religious faith in a fallen world. When a young and enthusiastic new preacher comes to town, gangster Big Jim Bottoms (Williams) finds that his juke joint no longer brings in as many customers. He arranges for the preacher to be photographed in a compromising situation with three attractive women, but his scheme has unexpectedly tragic consequences for the preacher and his fiancée, and the crime boss finds himself tortured by his conscience. Though hampered by an extremely low budget, Go Down Death, which was inspired by a narrative poem by James Weldon, displays Williams' bold and inventive visual sense, as well as his compelling on-screen personality; the sequence in which Big Jim is visited with a vision of Hell employs nightmarish footage from the films of pioneering fantasy filmmaker Georges Méliès. This was the third of eight films that Williams would helm in the 1940s; he gained his greatest fame in the 1950s as Andy on the TV series Amos 'n' Andy.

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Keywords

afterlife, bishop, death, faith, immorality, redemption, religion