Way Down South (1939)

Way Down Southway down south poster
Directed by Leslie Goodwins and Bernard Vorhaus
Written by Clarence Muse and Langston Hughes
Sol Lesser Productions

First viewing/Netflix rental



This is primarily notable for its screenplay by Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes and filmmaker/composer Clarence Muse (“When It’s Sleepytime Down South”).  It also introduced me to boy soprano child star Bobby Breen.

The story is set in the antebellum South.  Timothy Reid, Sr. is a benevolent slaveholder who treats his slaves humanely and has never sold one.  Timothy Jr. (Breen) feels that they are his friends.  Reid’s accountant, the corrupt Martin Dill, harangues Reid for not running his plantation as a business.  Then Reid dies and Dill is named executor.  He promptly decides to sell off most of the “excess” slaves.  Young Timothy escapes with his confidant Uncle Caton (Muse) to New Orleans where they take shelter at a hotel/restaurant run by Jacques Bouton (Alan Mowbray) and Timothy desperately tries to protect Uncle Caton and forestall the sale.

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The story is just OK and Breen is none too convincing as an actor but the singing by him and by the Hall Johnson Choir (Green Pastures, Cabin in the Sky) is glorious.  I was kind of surprised that these screenwriters chose to depict contented slaves but I suppose the times may have demanded that tack.

Victor Young was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring for this film.

Songs from the film set so still photographs

3 thoughts on “Way Down South (1939)

  1. We almost always agree, Bea……but I think Bobby Breen was one of the most unattractive and unappealing child stars in history. But I haven’t seen this film, so maybe he wasn’t so bad here but somehow I doubt it.

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