Duke Is Tops, The

2015. THE DUKE IS TOPS (1938-USA). With RALPH COOPER, LENA HORNE. This delightful independently produced all-black-cast musical drama is the motion picture debut of Lena Home. She was all of 21 years-old when cast in the film, but already was a veteran nightclub singer who began her career in the chorus of Harlem’s famed Cotton Club. Home made the film prior to her becoming the first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio. She displays a genuine and refreshing a quality in her role as Ethel Andrews, the “bronze nightingale” and star of “Sepia Scandals,” a musical revue touring the stix. Her producer and mentor is Duke Davis, who abandoned a promising career of his own to work with Ethel and push her ahead. Duke and Ethel are in love and he beams with pride as she performs on stage. Their relationship hits a crossroads when a talent agent observes that Ethel is a sure shot for the big time. Only problem is, she will have to go solo. Other plot complications and misunderstandings follow, leading to a most satisfying happy endÂing. Cast in the role of Duke is Ralph Cooper, a former bandleader known to black movie audiences “The Bronze Bogart.” Cooper is a handsome and talented actor who may perhaps have found starÂdom as a Hollywood leading man. However, he was a Negro at a time when blacks in Hollywood films were ghettoized in roles as dimwitted janitors or overweight mammies. What makes black indeÂpendents so special is that they allowed black performers to play a variety of non-stereotypical roles as heroes and heavies, heroines and femme fatales. They also were an outlet for the distinctive abilities of black musical performers. The film is crammed with obscure but nonetheless extremely appealing specialty acts (including THE BASIN STREET BOYS, THE HARLEMANIA ORCHESTRA and, most memorably, an amazing dancer named RUBBER NECK HOLMES). 76 minutes. Musical