Gunsaulus Mystery (1921)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Early Black Cinema  |   Countries - USA  |  
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Produced, written, and directed by Oscar Micheaux, the most prolific African-American filmmaker of his generation, this silent murder melodrama was apparently based on a real event in Georgia in which a white man was convicted of murder due to the testimony of a black janitor. Myrtle Gunsaulus, a young black girl, is found murdered in the basement of a factory by Arthur Gilpin, the black janitor. Naturally, Gilpin is charged with the crime and arrested. Ida May (Evelyn Preer), Arthur's sister, hires her former boyfriend, Sidney Wyeth (Lawrence Chenault), to defend her brother. During the sensational trial, Wyeth is able to prove the janitor innocent and shift the suspicion on Anthony Brisbane, a white man who is a known sexual pervert. The Gunsaulus Mystery was based on the notorious Leo Frank murder case, in which Frank, a white factory foreman, threatened a black janitor into helping him dispose of his young, female victim. Micheaux remade the film in 1933 as The Brand of Cain, and the Frank story was turned into the television mini-series The Murder of Mary Phagan in 1988 by NBC, starring Jack Lemmon. The Gunsaulus Mystery was made at the Esstee Studios in New York City.