I don’t know what viewers will see in this clip from the 1936 Bing Crosby musical PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, which gave Louis his first starring role in a full-length motion picture.  Some may find it offensive, demeaning.  After all, the premise of this dramatization of “The Skeleton in the Closet” is racist.  Colored folks, everyone knew back then, were frightened to death of spooks.

But I see Louis the peerless actor, storyteller, comedian, also the man who was a great dancer.  And that masked drummer, young Lionel Hampton, is swinging heroically. 

But when Louis blows his mighty horn and chases that skeleton back to the graveyard, I see a man vanquishing death.  Not only for himself, but for all of us.  What we love and what we create lives on.

8 responses to “LOUIS ROUTS DEATH

  1. Despite the social conditions, I’m sure Louis was glad to have the gig. I’ll bet he was earning more than my Dad, who was a doorman for a medium sized Manhattan hotel. I remember him telling us he quit that job in 1940 to move up to a 90 cent-an-hour factory job.

  2. I pretty much think the day is long gone when we have to justify in grandiose terms a film or a song done 70 or more years ago.

    If some neo-reactionaries can’t understand that it was another world, time and place that produced such things, then they need to read a history book and get on with their lives.

  3. I don’t in any way mean to denigrate your diligent and underpaid father, but what Louis was paid to light up the screen was not exactly the point of my posting that clip.

  4. A few incendiary terms there, Sir! And I wonder, in this context, if you have seen the entirety of the film, where Louis is cast as a particularly dim-witted chicken-stealing farmhand, with no particular explanation of where that beautiful double-breasted suit and shiny trumpet came from. “Grandiose” and “neo-reactionaries” indeed! The point of my posting this clip was so that people who had never seen it, or people like myself who hadn’t seen it for a long time, could marvel at Louis. He transcends ideological jargon of all kinds.

  5. Ya – I have seen the film PENNIES FROM HEAVEN 1936. Had it on video for years. I didn’t feel like mentioning the chicken-stealing or that Louis can’t do the arithmetic of divide the amount per chicken among his guys in the band, so he accepts less money than he need to.

    I don’t have a problem with the clip. Your replies seem very defensive, though. How come?

    It’s your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs seem to strive very hard to justify Louis’ appearance in the film in grandiose terms. I mean, it’s up to you, but what’s the point? To divert the neo-reactionaries from getting the vapors over a once upon a time stereotypical angle in a 73 year old film? Praise Louis for certain, but justify his appearance – no need.

    I ain’t mad at you.

  6. I ain’t mad at you, either. And you did catch me being defensive . . . but what you call “grandiose” is my emotional reaction to watching Louis. And I respond to him on deeply philosophical / emotional levels — as someone who’s been “reading” symbols for a living, I find it peculiarly gratifying that Louis is able to drive that skeleton away. It makes me feel that the clip is more than simply a wonderful performance of a novelty number. But I wouldn’t take away your pleasure in it as simply a great piece of jazz performance. If we both praise Louis in our own ways, we are on the right paths. Cheers!

  7. Well – that’s why there are 2 sides to a slice of bread.

    Spread your jam where ye may!


  8. Brunswick 7771
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    If Artie Shaw performs this song, is it still a ‘racist’ song/performance?

    How about Putney Dandridge? He was black.

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    It’s just a spooky novelty song with no racial connotations except the ones which someone might care to attach to it.

    Lots of people then and now are ‘scared’ of skeletons and spooks. It’s not an exclusive black franchise.

    There’s nothing in the verse and chorus that Louis sings about ‘colored folks’ or what not.

    There’s no explanation to the all white audience in the film in any manner that this song reflects exclusively black attitudes about spooks and skeletons.

    Louis isn’t doing any more mugging than usual, nor is he or anyone in the band making frightened faces that suggest they are fearful because it is a ‘black thing’.

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