Revenge of the Zombies (1943)

For tonight’s opening salvo, we go to 1954 and the Popeye short, “Fright to the Finish.” In it, we have one of the classic love triangles–Popeye, Bluto and Olive Oyl–put through the filter of Halloween. And in Washington Irving fashion, the pranks that guys will create to get one over on their rivals. We’re just that way. It’s hard wired. Honest.

Tonight’s feature bears some prelude. This is Revenge of the Zombies from 1943, a sequel/rough remake of King of the Zombies from two years earlier. Yes, the ostensible star is John Carradine (in the slot Henry Victor had in the first film–that of That Mad Scientist Guy). However, this is where my argument turns the usual critique of films like these on their heads. Mantan Moreland returns in his role of Jeff from the first film. He is widely considered to be an actor from the Stepin Fetchit school, playing the bumbling yessa-massa sort of African-American character that you could easily find in the 1940s. However.

If you watch the film these days, however, you see characters like Jeff quite differently. At least I do. Moreland has all the best lines. All of them. And he is a comedy genius. As for his character–well, there’s a reason Jeff is the only character to return from the first film. It’s because he’s smarter than pretty much anyone else. He’s the one who says the most sensible things. He’s the most reasonable person around. Remember Eddie Murphy’s routine on African-Americans and haunted houses? I think Moreland’s the recurring character because he’s the hero of these movies. And considering he’s played many a character called Jeff, I need to seek them out to see if he’s the same Jeff in all of them. Because I could watch this guy work all day long.