100 Movie Musicals #13: The Bronze Buckaroo (1939)

One of a series of all-black westerns starring Herbert Jeffrey, with songs by the Four Tones. Very shaggy, and more interested in a talking mule than any kind of plot, but a fun little trifle, and the songs are great.

This wasn’t the original movie we had on this list in this place — that was the first film in the series, Harlem on the Range, only that movie has been lost for decades so it’s literally not possible to watch. This isn’t the first time a movie on this list was difficult to find, and it won’t be the last, but this is notable not just because the film is entirely gone, but also because it’s one of the very few movies from this period of US cinematic history that starred Black actors.

Note that the movie only stars Black performers; the director and producer were both white. This is a dynamic that will occur repeatedly with most of the Black musicals on this list. Cabin in the Sky (#15) was directed by Vincente Minelli, and Stormy Weather (#16) was directed by Andrew L. Stone, both white; both were written by several layers of white writers. Carmen Jones (#24) and Porgy and Bess (#33) were both directed by the very white Otto Preminger. Both The Wiz (#56, Sidney Lumet) and Purple Rain (#63, Albert Magnoli) were directed by white men; Ray (#84, Taylor Hackford) and Dreamgirls (#86, Bill Condon), ibid. It won’t be until Idlewild (#89, Bryan Barber) in 2006 that Black actors will be in a movie directed by a Black director. I’m not sure how much of this is an issue with our list specifically and how much is an issue with American movie culture write large; my gut says that if neither Bill Robinson nor Prince could demand a Black director, no one could.

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