Harlem on the Prairie (Associated Features) is billed as "the first all-Negro musical Western." It brings to life a cow-country as fabulous as the vision of some Holy Roller prophet. In this apocalyptic land everybodythe prospectors and stagecoach drivers, the medicine men, outlaws, sheriff, the hero with the silver-plated stock saddleis a gentleman of color. No attempt is made to explain how so much pigment got all over the open spaces. It is there, palpably, by a whim of the Almighty, indulged with the liberal connivance of one Jed Buell, an independent Hollywood producer who learned his art from Mack Sennett.
Harlem on the Prairie was designed to play as many as possible of the 800 Negro theatres currently operating in the U. S. It is in no sense a burlesque. Jeff Kincaid (Herbert Jeffries) is very much in earnest about keeping Wolf Cain (Maceo B. Sheffield) from grabbing the cache of gold hidden many years ago by Doc Clayburn (Spencer Williams Jr.). Doc, now an honest peddler of snakebite remedies wants to return the money to the people he took it from in his outlaw days. His daughter, Carolina (Connie Harris), knows they never will be happy lessen he do. But Doc dies in a gun battle and the sheriff, with Jeff's aid, gives Wolf his just deserts.
If the cast kidded this plot the effect would have been tragic, but they play it straight, with frequently hilarious results. In Negro theatres it will be a conventional Western, and it can play the artier white houses as a parody. Best parts of the picture are the tunes, Harlem on the Prairie and Romance in the Rain, written by a white man, Lew Porter. Now and then the harmonizing of The Four Tones in Albuquerque or Jeffries' big baritone going to town with The Old Folks at Home shows how good a colored musical film might be.
The cast is an interesting cross-section of the upper crust of Los Angeles' South Central Avenue (Negro district). Villain Maceo B. Sheffield was for ten years the meanest looking cop on the L. A. police force, now owns a piece of the 41 Club, the 833 Club, the Montmartre and the Last Round. Connie Harris, who works in the Paradise Cafe in Yuma, Ariz., has been described as a streamlined coffeecake; Comedian F. E. Miller once wrote an all-colored show (Shuffle Along), which was better than most white musicals produced in its time, ran two years on Broadway.
Associated Features. Inc., the company that made Harlem on the Prairie, is an all-white organization. President and chief producer is Jed Buell, who has made a specialty of shoe-string productions, spent considerably less than $50,000 on this picture. If Harlem on the Prairie clicks, he plans to turn out four such Westerns a year. Secretary-treasurer of the com-pany is famed, rich Yale Pole-Vaulter Sabin W. Carr.