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"Saturday sinners and Sunday saints clash in a battle of good against evil!" was the tagline on the theatrical posters that promoted Go Down Death (1944). Spencer Williams' moralistic drama was filmed in Dallas, Texas, and even features the director himself in a pivotal role as a corrupt character whose actions bring "down death." While the film was obviously made on a low budget, it remains a fascinating social artifact of its time and was allegedly inspired by a poem of the same name by James Walden Johnson. The latter was best known for his book of verse, God's Trombone (1927).
Spencer Williams was born in Vidalia, California in 1893 and enjoyed a long stage career before he began writing and directing in the 1940s. His directorial debut was The Blood of Jesus (1941), where he took full advantage of the emerging sound technology. Not only were his films wrought with life lessons, they also contained more gospel music and 'Negro' spirituals than dialogue. While Spencer Williams sought to dispel myths that blacks were soulless heathens, many would say he set the race back to square one when he portrayed "Andy" in the television series, Amos 'n' Andy (1951-53). Quite the contrary was the case as Williams often clashed with white producers who wanted more gregarious, minstrel-like performances from his cast. Though he was criticized for playing the "Andy" character, Williams used the money from the series to fund his independent film productions. Williams retired once Amos 'n' Andy went off the air and died of kidney problems in 1969.
Producer:Alfred N. Sack
Screenplay:Sam Elljay, Jean Roddy (story), Spencer Williams
Cast:Myra D. Hemmings, Samuel James, Eddye L. Houston, Spencer Williams (Big Jim Bottoms), Amos Droughan, Walter McMillion, Irene Campbell.
by Kerryn Sherrod