DVD Talk
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Reviews & Columns
Reviews
DVD
TV on DVD
Blu-ray
International DVDs
Theatrical
Adult
Video Games

Features
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
Interviews
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Columns
Anime Talk
XCritic.com
DVD Stalk
DVD Savant
High-Def Revolution
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum
Resources
DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info
Links

DVDTalk Info
Review Staff
About DVD Talk
Advertise
Newsletter Subscribe
Join DVD Talk Forum
DVD Talk Feeds


Special Offer

Search: For:
Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Way Down South
Way Down South
Roan Group // Unrated // February 7, 2006
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted February 1, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Buy from Amazon.com
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
P R I N T
Printer Friendly
The Movie:
 
Bobby Breen was a child star in the 1930's.  Born in 1927, the young Bobby began appearing on stage at the age of 7 and in 1936 he became a sensation on Eddie Cantor's radio show.  He appeared in many shorts and movies in minor roles, but it didn't take long for Breen to sign with RKO.  His first staring role was in 1936's Let's Sing Again, but sadly he stared in his last film a mere three years later, 1939's Escape to Paradise.  That's because Bobby's voice started to change, and as his haunting soprano voice went, so did his Hollywood career.  Roan, one of the best publisher's of public domain movies, has now released Breen's second to last film on DVD, Way Down South.  This is a standard studio picture of the day, with a run of the mill story and plot, but with a certain amount of charm too.

Tim Reid (Bobby Breen) has an idyllic life on a plantation in pre-civil war Louisiana, until his father dies however.  Though Tim inherits the entire estate and all of the slaves that run the land, it is all controlled by the executor, Martin Dill (Edwin Maxwell.)

Dill is long on talk but short on money, and he also has a fiancee with expensive tastes.  In order to keep his lady friend pleased, Dill starts embezzling money from the estate.  Soon that's not enough however and the crooked man plans to sell all of the slaves, including all of Tim's friends, and take the proceeds to Europe.  It's up to plucky Tim to find a way to save his friends before they are all sold and scattered to different plantations.

This film was written by a pair of African-Americans, Clarance Muse and poet Langston Hughes, which was a rarity in 1939.  It is obvious that they tried to paint African-Americans in a better light than Hollywood was used to doing at the time, but they only partially succeeded.  While they didn't use the black characters for comic relief and the romantic subplot was between two slaves (one who is savagely beaten for talking to the woman he loves) there was still much stereotyping present.  The slaves are shown to have a great life cutting sugar cane and picking cotton as long as Tim's father is alive.  They have races and sing songs and don't have a care in the world, even singing the praises of  their former master after he dies.  It's only when Dill takes over that they aren't happy, implying that slavery isn't a bad practice as long as the owner is a kind person.  Watching the film I often wondered how much was changed from the original script.  (It is easy to assume that the writers knew that they could never submit a script that accurately portrayed plantation life if they ever wanted the film to be made.)

Aside from the comments on race that the movie has, this is a typical B-movie of the period.  It clocks in at a scant 60 minutes, that's including a few musical numbers, and it has a very simple and straight forward plot.  There isn't time for a lot of twists and turns, and it's easy to see the resolution far in advance.

As far as acting, Bobby Breen does a fair job, but he just doesn't have a lot of screen presence.  When compared to Shirley Temple, a contemporary child star, he pails in comparison.  His voice is very high and pretty (one of the highlights of the movie is when he sings Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child), but he doesn't bring much more than that to the screen.  The creators might have realized that because, though he does get top billing, the plot doesn't really revolve around his character.  He seems to be along for the ride more than actually driving the picture.

The DVD:


 
Audio:

The two channel mono soundtrack is limited by the technology of the day, and it has a rather limited range.  This is most noticeable in the musical numbers, but the whole film sounds a little flat.  There is some hiss in a few scenes and some light distortion, but this isn't a major problem.  The film sounds about average for a movie this old.

Video:

The full frame image looks very good for a public domain film released in 1939.  The picture is clean and clear, and the contrast and level of detail are both excellent.  The black levels are a bit on the light side, but this is a minor defect.  There is some print damage, a few spots and scratches and one or two missing frames.  There is a very small white spot that travels down the left side of the screen for a while, and a light vertical scratch though a good portion of the movie, but these aren't distracting.  Overall this is a very nice looking DVD.

Extras:

In addition to an introduction by NY Post film critic Lou Lumenick, there is a nice featurette entitled Life of a Child Star, an interview with Bobby Breen's son, Bill Winckler.  He talks about his father's start in show business and mentions some of the many films that he appeared in.  I especially liked the anecdote Bill told about his father running for Congress and coming "dangerously close" to winning.

There is also a clip from the Roan release of Check and Double Check and the ever present Radiation March.

Final Thoughts:

This second to last Bobby Breen vehicle is an average B-film for the time.  That's not to say it's bad, it just isn't as dynamic and exciting as it could be.  Though Breen had a beautiful voice, his acting was only average and he really doesn't light up the screen.  Roan however has done a nice job with this DVD.  The picture is very good overall and looks better than most public domain films from the 30's.   Though it's not perfect, this film is still a good hour's worth of entertainment, and is recommended for fans of early talking films.

Popular Reviews
1. Eastbound & Down: Season 4
2. Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXX
3. Bob's Burgers: Season 3
4. Heaven Is for Real
5. Noah
6. Rio 2
7. Orphan Black: Season 2
8. Born Yesterday
9. Brannigan
10. Marty


Special Offers
DVD Blowouts
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Alien [Blu-ray]
Buy: $19.99 $9.99
8.
9.
10.
Special Offers
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Copyright 2014 DVDTalk.com All Rights Reserved. Legal Info, Privacy Policy, Terms of Use