Moon Over Harlem (1939):

If remembered at all, this all-black quickie is cited more for director Edgar G. Ulmer's fabled, pre-Roger Corman no-budget acrobatics (allegedly shot for $8,000 over four days) than for his thematic and stylistic ingenuity. The plot -- a racketeer named Dollar Bill (Percy Harris) marries a moneyed widow (Cora Green) and disgraces her daughter (Ozinetta Wilcox) by trying to seduce her -- is as thin as one of Oscar Micheaux's (deliberately?) rickety "sepia" dramas, padded out with the obligatory cabaret numbers and switchblade theatrics. The feeling of a black community is strongly conveyed, however, and it compares interestingly with the Yiddish village crafted by Ulmer in The Light Ahead that same year -- both are shown to be nurturing as well as potentially stifling, held back by old superstitions, ignorance and fear. (Tellingly, Dollar Bill gets his orders from a white kingpin, of which we only see the back of his fat neck.) More visually drab than most of Ulmer's efforts, the film nevertheless boasts is an arresting funeral sequence near the end, filmed and edited to the waves of moaning sorrow filling the room. Also with a brief appearance by legendary jazzman Sidney Bechet. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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