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King of the Zombies

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King of the Zombies

(Jean Yarbrough, 1941)

Cast. Dick Purcell (James McCarthy), Joan Woodbury (Barbara Winslow), Mantan Moreland (Jeff), Henry Victor (Dr. Sangre), John Archer (Bill Summers), Patricia Stacey (Alyce Sangre), Guy Usher (Admiral Wainwright), Marguerite Whitten (Samantha), Leigh Whipper (Momba), Madame Sul-Te-Wan (Tahama), James Davis (Lazarus), and Laurence Criner (Dr. Couillie).

One word that might describe the first few scenes of Mantan Moreland’s King of the Zombies is “annoying.” Moreland seems uncomfortable and to be playing the wrong role: not Jeff the valet, but “black comedian.”

*Another word might be “awkward,” but that might be unfair. That might be only a matter of modern eyes watching the display of 1941’s racial politics and cringing a little.

The movie does eventually find its way, and when it does, it’s much better. It features an old Sketchbook favorite, Joan Woodbury, and a new: Marguerite Whitten, who plays Samantha. The scenes in the kitchen of Jeff and Samantha are fantastic and earn the price of admission by themselves. Leigh Whipper’s Mombo is also excellent, and Madame Sul-Te-Wan’s cackling Tahama is as creepy as a creepy, cackling crone can be.

Open thread.

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