DRUMS O’VOODOO (1934)
Article #41 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-26-2001
Posting date: 9-8-2001
The unsavory manager (Morris McKinney) of a local juke joint takes a liking to the niece (Edna Barr) of a Baptist preacher (Gus Smith, who also wrote the play on which this movie was based) and wants her to join his house of prostitution. In order to get his way, he threatens to reveal the preacher’s past, as they both served together on a chain gang at one point. In order to save them, the grandson (Lionel Monegas) of a local voodoo priestess (Laura Bowman) pleads with her to use her powers to stop the manager.
We are in obscure territory here; this movie is mentioned in Turner and Price’s “Forgotten Horrors” book. This movie was produced for black audiences, and the cast is made up entirely of blacks. It was based on a failed stage play called “Louisiana”; in fact, it’s largely a photographed stage play, with a series of static sequences filmed as unimaginitively as possible. It was also heavily censored. Furthermore, the print that I watched was not in the best of condition, especially towards the end. As a result, it’s hardly what I would call easy viewing, but it does provide a nice example of a certain genre of moviemaking in the thirties.
One thing I do find quite fascinating about this movie is the way the forces of Christianity and the forces of voodoo team up to fight off a mutual antagonist. Someone pointed out to me that voodoo did in fact arise out of a combination of black beliefs and Christianity, and he may be right, but I’m still amazed that this concept got past the censors, though it is possible that the Hays office may not have been in effect yet. If they did exist at this time, it makes me wonder if they didn’t pay much attention to movies that weren’t geared to white audiences. At any rate, this is one of those movies that is more interesting to talk about than it is to actually watch.