Written by John E. Gordon
Directed by Bud Pollard
A black cast Race Movie made entirely to give an excuse for Louis Jordan to play his jazz for over half the running time, Beware succeeds marvelously in it’s goal, because Louis Jordan is awesome. Everything else, though, is freaking terrible! The flat actors seem pulled from community theater, and occasionally fumble their lines, but the scene continues as if nothing happened.
Louis Jordan is joined by his Tympany Band, at this time the line up is: William Davis on Piano, Joshua W. Jackson on Sax, Aaron Izenhall on Trumpet, Carl Hogan on Guitar, Jesse Simpkins on Bass, and Eddie Byrd on Drums. Also credited is The “ARISTO-GENES” Girls Club, who did some of the dancing.
An interesting feature is aside from Jordan and his band, all of the adult black characters with authority are light-skinned. The Dean, the Professor, and even love interest Annabelle are light complexion. Even more odd, the villain, Charles Ware the Third, is the lightest skinned of them all! The students and minor characters like a guy at the train station are generally darker. I don’t know if there was a conscious effort to cast a more lighter main cast (some of the all black cast films do things like that, Oscar Micheaux did is constantly in his films) or just the film stock has degraded to point where everyone is lighter skinned.
Director Bud Pollard’s first flick was Girls for Sale (1927), a precode white slavery “epic” that he cowrote and codirected. But as John Donaldson at the Classic Horror Film Board detected, there was a bit more to the story. Girls for Sale started out as a German film called Das Frauenhaus von Rio and was advertised as Rio’s Road to Hell, until Brazil’s government go offended and suddenly the title was just Road to Hell. It played at least once with live action nude models (which I think was a stage show that was ripping off the “sex education” films like Mom and Dad) I honestly can’t tell if this film still exists.
Pollard dabbled in all sorts of exploitation fare, from race films like The Black King (1932), It Happened in Harlem (1945), Beware, and Tall, Tan, and Terrific (1946). He made at least one Yiddish language film, Victims of Persecution (1933), and an Italian language film, O Festino o la Legge (1932). He’s probably best known for Alice in Wonderland (1931) and The Horror (1932). Pollard would even appear on film in The Road to Hollywood (1947), which is a collection of Bing Crosby shorts packaged and renamed to cash in on his Road to... flicks, with Bud Pollard hosting the interstitials. You can watch it for free at Archive.org. Heck, you can even watch Beware there!
Beware is a quick way to pass the time and filled with lots of cool jazz. Though in this day and age you can just download tons and tons of Louis Jordan tunes, turning Beware more into an interesting artifact of the time. What will people say of Katy Perry: Part of Me in 60 years?
Ware College is in trouble, as a student doesn’t know when Columbus discovered America! Also the school is running out of money, which I think would be problem number 2 at this point… Benjamin Ware III says Benjamin Ware I’s endowment fund is broke, but the Dean believes that’s a lie and he’s bankrupting the school because Professor Annabelle Brown won’t marry him. Dean doesn’t blame Annabelle, because everyone knows Benjamin Ware the Third is a giant jackass. The only solution is to close the school unless more money can be raised.
Miss Brown comes to the idea to call in all the right alumni to help save the school, so they flip through the schoolbook and rattle off famous alumni, ending with that crazy Lucius Brokenshire Jordan who was too busy playing the saxophone to be good at school. Lucius and then-student Annabelle had mutual crushes, which made Benjamin Ware the Third was totally mad, thus Lucius disappeared to who knows where.
Let’s stop by the totally unreleated famous jazz musician Louis Jordan, who is jamming on the train. The train stops because of damaged tracks ahead, stranding Louis Jordan in some random town. The town of Ware. As Eddie Byrd plays 3-card monte and loses, Louis Jordan heads right to Ware College, where the dean and Professor Drury are playing chess. They recognize him as Lucius (and only Lucius) and agree to let him and his friends stay the night at the dorms.
The next day meets some students who quickly begin calling all their buddies while Lucius begins playing songs in the class after the Professor leaves for a meeting (during class???) Louis Jordan is also the only alumni who bothers to help the school, all the other people listed are no-shows.
Louis Jordan helps a kid with self-esteem (and by proxy, the self-esteem of the Ware College Mule mascot) with another song, and then calls his accountant to take a look at the fund Benjamin Ware the Third says is broke. The accountant tells him the money is fine, and Louis angrily confronts Benjamin Ware the Third with this information. As Ware is also pushing around Annabelle, you know Louis is gonna do something…
A Benjamin Ware the Third sporting an obvious shiner is forced by Louis to announce the college won’t be closing and will be funded for 100 years. Then Louis Jordan plays for the next 20 minutes and the movie rules along with the awesome soundtrack. I thought it was interesting that they didn’t show Louis Jordan hit the guy, despite their efforts to paint him as a woman abuser along with a rich fraud jerk who is misappropriating marked funds. I guess having Jordan hitting someone on camera was a bit too far.
The most interesting of the songs is Long-Legged Lizzy (here called Long-Legg’d Lizzie) and features a dance by Dimples Daniels, a lady with exceedingly long arms and legs that she puts to good use swaying to the beat. As far as I can tell, this is her only film role.
When the concert is over, we see Annabelle is headed back to New York City on Jordan’s train, the two making out after one final song. So let’s jam!
Rated 4/10 (dog statue, porter, B.Ware the Mule!, wallet love)
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