The mission of The Department of Afro-American Research Arts and Culture to identify the global significance of the creative contributions pioneered by an international diaspora of Blackness
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Friday, January 11, 2013

The Bronze Buckaroo (1939)

"The Bronze Buckaroo" (1939) is an all-black cast western part of the Race Film era. This film was one of four westerns released between 1937 and 1939 featuring Herbert Jefferies, the singing cowboy. A production company known as Hollywood Productions (a.k.a. Hollywood Pictures Company) is responsible for the movie's release. Unfortunately, there is little available information on the company's conception. However, Spencer Williams Jr., his longtime friend, Flournoy E. Miller (a.k.a F.E. Miller), and executive Richard C. Kahan seem responsible for the company's start, which produced about ten films from late 1930 to the mid-1940s. 

The production company filmed "The Bronze Buckaroo" and "Two-Gun Man from Harlem" (1938) at Murray's Ranch in Victorville, California. Murray's Ranch was the only "colored" dude ranch in America, according to the California Eagle (October 13th, 1938). N.B. Murray and his wife Leila purchased the Ranch ten years prior, but in 1936, the couple converted the place into a Guest Range, where many black celebrities took notice of the scenic beauty and became frequent visitors. In addition, all of the livestock used in the films were part of the Ranch, and many professional horseback riders attended the Ranch to assist with the production of the movies.

"The Bronze Buckaroo" was part of the flourishment of black films that began to sep into Hollywood. Between the late 1920s and mid-1930s, Oscar Micheaux was the primary filmmaker of black movies. But after George Randol and Ralph Cooper split behind producing "Dark Manhattan" (1937), black films entered the mainstream and commercial realm, where significant Hollywood executives participated in the commercialization. As a result, there was an urge to showcase more actors that could sing, dance, or do comedy. The unsung sensation Lucious "Dusty" Brooks, the bass singer for the Four Tones, was an example of this new type of showcasing. He teamed up with F.E. Miller to carry the film's comedic atmosphere, as the two had excellent chemistry throughout the movie. In addition to Lucious comedic talent, he was also part of the film's soundtrack as his group sang a couple of numbers in the movie.

Herbert Jefferies represents a fascinating aspect of "black" actors, which further exemplifies the complex nature of how race existed in America. In modern society, Jefferies would be an excellent representation of a person with a multicultural background who wouldn't have to choose between black and white. However, in the 1930s, Jefferies could have passed as white. But instead, he decided to embrace his black side, which helped land him into the entertainment industry coming out of Detroit, Michigan. Since light-skin black people were regular in Race films during this period, there were few questions on why he was there at first. Yet, American society made it clear with the "One Drop Rule" how an individual would exist during that time. Therefore, people began to question Jefferies' race. Later in the 1950s, it's reported that Jefferies decided to pass for white for personal reasons but never denied the existence of black blood in his lineage.

Additional actors in the film include Artie Young, the only woman in the movie, who also starred in several films produced by Hollywood Productions. She was even able to land roles as a dancer in "Stormy Weather" and "Cabin in the Sky," both released in  1943. In addition, Clarence Brooks' presence in "The Bronze Buckaroo" as the film's antagonist boosts the stardom in the movie. Out of all the actors in the film, Brooks was one of the original pioneers of black cinema in assisting Noble Johnson in starting the first black production company, Lincoln Motion Pictures Company, in 1916. Finally, the film includes Spencer Williams, a pioneering filmmaker who starred in and produced several films throughout the 1940s. Some of his most notable films include "The Blood of Jesus," "Juke Joint," and "Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A."

"The Bronze Buckaroo" is a straightforward western. The story is simple, and the music is for its time, but the history of this film is worth every moment. There are several more layers to this movie and the actors associated with filming. Like many Race films, the origin of how people conceive these productions can be as fascinating as the movie itself.

Director: Richard C. Kahn
Writer: Richard C. Kahn (screenplay)

Starring Herb Jeffries, Lucius Brooks, Artie Young, F.E. Miller, Spencer Williams, Clarence Brooks, Lee Calmes, Earle Morris, The Four Tones, Rollie Hardin

Cowboy Bob Blake (Herbert Jeffries) and four friends ride to Arizona to help Betty Jackson (Artie Young), the sister of Bob's friend, Joe (Rollie Hardin), who has gone missing. Bob meets Jackson's neighbor, Buck Thorn (Clarence Brooks), who says he'd offered to buy the Jackson ranch but was rejected. Unknown to Bob and his friends, Thorn holds Joe hostage to torture him into signing over his property, which hides a valuable mine. When Betty then disappears, Bob decides to take on Thorn.