Friday, July 24, 2009

Mantan Moreland and You're Out of Luck

I recently watched "You're Out Of Luck" (1941) one of the eight films Frankie Darro and Mantan Moreland did for Monogram Pictures. As I've noted before in my review of "The Irish Luck," these films aren't great art, but they're definitely entertaining.

Darro and Moreland played virtually the same roles in each film. Darro was the young, impulsive eager beaver ready to leap headlong into trouble, while Moreland was the more cautious and practical -- and definitely wanted to avoid trouble at all costs.

Sure, it's the same relationship Mel Gibson and Danny Glover play in the "Lethal Weapon" franchise but there's a difference. In the early 1940's it was rare for an African-American to be an equal partner to a white man -- even on film.

In the movie , elevator operator Frankie O'Reilly (Darro) and janitor/handyman Jeff Jefferson (Moreland) work at the Carlton Arms hotel, where they witness the murder of a gangster. Frankie's brother, the police detective assigned to the case, asked Frankie to help keep any eye on some of the suspects in the hotel. And of course, Frankie not only agrees but also volunteers Jefferson's help.

Mantan was rumored to ad-lib many of his lines and was actually a big enough star to get away with it. In this first audio clip, Jefferson protests always being dragged into another mess. But listen carefully to what Mantan actually says. It sounds to me like a very subtle commentary on the role he was forced to play. (And is he referencing "King of the Zombies" which he also starred in the same year?)

Mantan Moreland was an accomplished stand-up comedian with an impeccable sense of timing. In this next scene, Frankie tries to gather more clues by bluffing. His brother's been demoted from detective for various setbacks in the case, and Frankie wants to help. Jeff has his own opinion about what's going on.

I'm not saying that a film as slight as "You're Out of Luck" is worthy of serious post-modern analysis. But, as always, Moreland's performance gives this breezy little mystery just enough substance to make it worth watching even today.

- Ralph

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