The Devil’s Daughter (1939)

The Devil’s Daughter is an all-black melodramatic semi-remake of Ouanga with no devil and with daughters so bland the devil wouldn’t want ’em anyway. The whispy-voiced Ida James stars as vapid heiress Sylvia Walton, who inherits a Jamaican plantation worked by “Jamaicans” without a hint of patois. Her half-sister Isabelle (the legendary Nina Mae McKinney), however, has staked a claim to the property and refuses Sylvia’s offer to share it.

Isabelle concocts a scheme with plantation overseer Phillip (Jack Carter) to play on Sylvia’s superstition by making her think that she’s to be sacrificed in an obeah ceremony unless she leaves the island. Of course, since Isabelle can’t really perform obeah, and since we know that she won’t actually go through with the sacrifice, the sense of drama is nil. The story’s so basic that even with a running time of barely 50 minutes, there’s still a good 10 minutes of filler — obeah ritual dancing, a (ahem) cock fight and the early black cinema staple: a game of dice.

Hamtree Harrington, the poor man’s Mantan Moreland, provides comic relief as Percy Jackson, who’s tricked into believing that his soul was transferred into a pig so that it wouldn’t get stolen by ghosts. (Great, as long as no one wants bacon.) Apart from Harrington and McKinney, the actors are stiff and disturbingly indicative of the color consciousness of the time; the leads are so light-skinned that it’s hard to tell that they’re even black (granted, the horrible lighting doesn’t help). It’s sort of like having an all-black movie nowadays starring Vin Diesel, Jennifer Beals, Mariah Carey and The Rock. Despite the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the characters in The Devil’s Daughter, the ending is ridiculously simple and neatly tied together, with everyone basically agreeing to get along. Kumbaya!

“Nice ass.”
“Knees and toes, people! Knees and toes!”
What happens in Jamaica stays in Jamaica.
“OK, you win. Have your way with me.”
“Face it, Steve, a man with pockets that small could never satisfy a woman.”


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