The multifaceted Spencer Williams excelled as director, playwright, actor and screenwriter. From the earliest days of his career, he carved himself a niche as one of America’s foremost African American filmmakers and dramatists. He specialized in making movies that featured all-African American casts, which therefore found their widest viewership in corresponding audiences. Most of his productions were made on modest budgets and he starred in most of them himself, but this in no way detracted from the popularity of his cinematographic offerings. He is most popularly known for his highly successful Andy and Amos TV series in the ‘50s.
The Blood of Jesus (1941) is a highly metaphorical film that effectively reflects both religious and African American issues that were as relevant to the turbulent ‘40s as they are today.
Running Time: 62 Minutes
MPAA Ratings: NR
The film begins with the narrator bemoaning the lack of true Christian Spirit in contemporary times, even while we witness a series of baptisms at a Texan riverside. Deeper waters than the baptismal ones soon become evident - the highly devout Martha (Cathryn Caviness) is among those being immersed. Some in the congregation, most notably Sister Ellerby (Heather Hardeman) have mixed sentiments about it - after all, Martha has just recently married Razz (Spencer Williams) and luckless Razz is certainly not a regular churchgoer. Yet, the beleaguered couple finds active endorsement in kindly Sister Jenkins (Juanita Riley).
It soon becomes evident that more than human issues are at play here. Yet another baptismal;candidate, Luke Williams (Alva Fuller) finds reasons to escape the process for the second time in a row. Evidently, his dedication is being sabotaged by an outside force. When Razz’s hunting rifle accidentally goes off and mortally injures Martha, she is transported to a point between Heaven and Hades - there her devotedness to her Savior is put to the test by demonic Judas Green (Frank H. McClennan), an emissary of Satan (James B. Jones) himself.
Though forewarned of these trials by an angel (Rogenia Goldthwaite) Martha soon finds herself tempted almost beyond her endurance. But despite the worldly enticements thrown her way, she remembers her true calling in time. Her final deliverance from the very jaws of death convinces even wavering Razz to turn a new leaf.
There were strong racist undercurrents rampant when Spencer Williams’ films were being made, but I recall seeing almost all of them. There was a certain innocence about them that no other director in those times could match. The Blood of Jesus is a simple story of Good versus Evil - of worldliness versus worshipfulness. It was a great inspiration to us back then, because it brings the matter of personal beliefs into hard focus. Spencer Williams appeals as the indecisive country bumpkin, and Cathryn Caviness carries off her role of the uncompromising devotee with accomplishment. The film is fascinatingly symbolic in many areas - the nail driven into the porch’s crossbeam just before the near-fatal accident is a brilliant touch. So is the unobtrusive, yet effective backdrop of hymn singing.
Though less religiously inclined viewers may find this one a bit on the heavy-handed side, The Blood of Jesus from A2ZCDS is a masterpiece of period filmmaking. I am tempted to wonder if modern directors would have the courage to tackle such a topic with comparable panache and forthrightness.
"What a relief this film was after Mel Gibson’s recent visceral bloodbath. The issue is not what we did to Christ, but what He has done for us. I was strongly reminded of a book by C.S. Lewis that handled this topic with equal sensitivity. If Spencer Williams was round today, I would hug him for making The Blood of Jesus."
Alicia Nolan (Overland Park, Kansas)
"I cannot pass this movie off lightly. It certainly brings up some relevant questions. I’m not religious, but it is clear that people who are have a degree of comfort in their lives that the likes of me cannot even guess at. This was amply illustrated in this fascinating feature film from A2ZCDS. I won’t say I’m converted - but I AM impressed."
Wendell Brinkman (Bismarck, North Dakota)
Rogenia Goldthwaite - The Angel
James B. Jones - Satan (as Jas. B. Jones)
Frank H. McClennan - Judas Green
Eddie DeBase - Rufus Brown (as Eddie De Base)
Alva Fuller - Luke Williams
Rev. R.L. Robertson -
The Heavenly Choir - Group Singers
Jack Whitman - Cinematography
Alfred N. Sack- Executive Producer
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