Sunday, July 31, 2016

Dirty Gertie from Harlem, USA

The second half of TCM's salute to Pioneers of Black Cinema is on tonight, including a movie I've referenced briefly before, Dirty Gertie from Harlem, USA, at 9:15 PM.

In the 1920s, Somerset Maugham wrote a story titled "Miss Thompson", which he later retitled "Rain". Under the title Rain, the story was turned into a movie in the early 1930s with Joan Crawford playing the Sadie Thompson role; it would be done again by Hollywood in the 1950s under the title Miss Sadie Thompson. Dirty Gertie from Harlem, USA is an all-black race movie version of the story.

If anybody doesn't know the story, it involves a woman of ill-repute who is escaping the US authorities and is now in the tropical islands. (Rain is set in the South Pacific; I think Dirty Gertie is set in the Caribbean.) A man of the cloth comes to the island, meets our woman, and tries to reform her.

Now, the story diverges between Rain and Dirty Gertie. In the original story and the Hollywood movie, the clergyman falls for Sadie, which of course has negative consequences. Apparently, black audiences of the time had even more reverence for their clergymen than white audiences did, because Dirty Gertie can't allow it's male lead to do this. This results in the ending being changed.

The "Dirty" Gertie character isn't even that dirty. She basically does a cabaret act, which has her doing a little shimmying, singing a song, and not much else. She could fit in well with Gilda; a temptress but certainly not obscene at least as presented on the screen.

That having been said, Dirty Gertie from Harlem, USA is worth watching, and not just because it's a race movie. Sure, it's not great, but the ideas are interesting.

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