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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

THE PROUD VALLEY / aka: THE TUNNEL (1940)


As one of the first prominent Negro stars, singer/athlete/actor/activist Paul Robeson typically got stuck playing noble archetypes or ignoble stereotypes . . . and that was when he got a part at all. But in this modestly effective British effort, he’s a ‘Regular Joe.’ Well . . . a Regular Joe with a big bass voice. He’s a sailor just off his ship and bumming thru Wales when his singing lands him a job in a colliery and a spot on the local men’s choir. (No small thing in a Welsh town.) Robeson’s skin color only comes up in a single scene (nicely handled, with half the cast sooted-faced from the mines) and he’s charmingly natural in a story that could have served Sidney Poitier in his LILIES OF THE FIELD/’63 days. SPOILER ALERT!! Alas, at the end there’s a mine accident (chillingly brought off by megger Pen Tennyson) and, once again, the black guy goes down to save his white brothers. Some archetypal tropes just won’t fade away.

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