Friday, May 16, 2008

Mantan Moreland -- Chasing Trouble

I've written before about the forgotten African-American film actor Mantan Moreland. In the 1940's this quick-witted comedic talent was popular enough that he was a bankable star. When Moreland's name appeared in the credits (usually under the two leads), the film was sure to make bank and then some.

Monogram Pictures paired Moreland with juvenile actor Frankie Darro and hit box office gold. In their seven films together, Darro usually played an enthusiastic, impulsive character who always brought the pair into a murder mystery or other trouble through his headstrong (and wrongheaded) actions. Moreland played the reluctant sidekick, the more sensible and cautious of the two.

What makes this combination interesting is that it was very unusual for the late 1930's. African-American characters usually only appeared onscreen as servants or unskilled laborers. Often they were shown as lazy and/or slow-witted. Mantan Moreland was neither. And the result is a series of buddy pictures with a dynamic that reminded me of the Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the "Lethal Weapon" franchise.

"Chasing Trouble" (1940) is a good example of the pair at work. Frankie Darro plays an enthusiastic florist delivery boy who wants to play matchmaker to Marjorie Reynolds. Mantan Moreland just wants to keep his job (and after Darro gets them involved with Nazi spies, his life).

Here's his take on the fix they're in.


video

It's a fun little film, and the chemistry between Darro and Mantan holds up well with age. I found this film on Archive.org.

I'll be searching out the rest of the series.

- Ralph

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