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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hi-De-Ho (1947)


















Starring:
  • Cab Calloway
  • Ida James
  • Jeni Le Gon
IMDB.com
Hi De Ho is one more of the quick, cheap movies cranked out by Hollywood featuring black entertainers and designed to fill seats in the movie houses for the segregated black audiences of the south and the unofficially but just as segregated theaters everywhere else. Hi De Ho is exceptional in one regard. It features that great showman and entertainer Cab Calloway in his prime and a year before he decided to disband his orchestra because of changing musical tastes. Calloway had a long career, and had become a star by 1930. He sang, moved (not exactly danced), strutted and jived. White audiences most probably learned what they knew about jump jazz, scat singing and the hep cat beat from Calloway. He was a fine singer, wrote a lot of his own stuff, and led one of the best swing orchestras around. He also seemed to have inexhaustible energy. So fair warning...Calloway's high energy pours out of this movie; watching it can wear you down after a while.

The story line is little more than an excuse for Calloway and his orchestra to perform some great, driving, swing numbers. The movie is little more than an hour long and the plot is over in the first half hour. For the last half hour we watch a non-stop performance of some great music and specialty acts. The idea is that Cab is just starting out in the business. He has a jealous girlfriend, Minnie (Jeni Le Gon) and a new, young manager, Etta (Ida James), who is as pretty as his girlfriend. Etta wangles a gig for Cab and his orchestra at a new nightclub, but it's right across the street from one owned by a gangster. Minnie thinks Cab has fallen for Etta, so she convinces the mob boss to eliminate his new competition by shooting Cab. Then Minnie realizes her mistake, tries to save Cab and takes the bullet meant for him. This is the plot, and in 30 minutes it's all squeezed in between eight full musical numbers of him and his orchestra rehearsing or playing at the nightclub. Now we learn that Cab has become a huge success. For the next 30 minutes we're in a plush nightclub where we watch nine terrific numbers, including the rotund Peter Sisters, singers, and the extraordinary The Miller Brothers and Lois, tap dancers. A highlight is Calloway doing St. James Infirmary Blues. Another is a full-throttle, sophisticated arrangement of At Dawn Time. Although his now- dead former girlfriend was named Minnie and was something of a moocher, Calloway never sings his signature, Minnie the Moocher. The closest we get is Minnie Is a Hep Cat Now.

The acting, except for Calloway, is dismal. But Cab Calloway and His Orchestra show why they were first-class musicians as well as first-class entertainers. If you've ever heard Cab Calloway sing, you'll hear his voice...

"I was walkin' up the street feelin' bad and bold. Deep down in my pockets I didn't have no gold. I looked up to the skies and to my surprise I saw a million dollar bill floatin' before my eyes. Hey now..."

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