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The Duke is Tops

7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

A popular small-town singer dubbed "The Bronze Venus" gets offered a shot at the big time in New York City, but it will mean leaving behind the loyal promoter who helped her make it this far. This remarkable film, one of the many so-called "race movies" made in the 1930s and '40s for the all-black theaters in existence at the time, also marks the screen debut of a 20 year-old Lena Horne, and co-stars Ralph Cooper, longtime host of "Amateur Night At The Apollo".

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Special Features

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Product Details

  • Actors: Ralph Cooper; Lena Horne; Laurence Criner
  • Directors: William L. Nolte
  • Writers: Phil Dunham
  • Producers: Harry M Popkin
  • Format: NTSC
  • Region: All Regions
  • Studio: Synergy Ent
  • DVD Release Date: April 3, 2008
  • Run Time: 73 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00176VK1O
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #685,371 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Duke is Tops" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Brenna E. Lorenz on August 31, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
This is Lena Horne's first movie. In it she plays a singer, the Bronze Nightengale or Bronze Venus, who partners with the good-hearted Duke of the title. This is not Duke Ellington; the role is played by Ralph Cooper. It is fascinating to compare Lena's somewhat tentative performance in this movie to her confident and dynamic appearances in later movies such as Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky. This movie is characterized by a good, sound plot in which Duke and Lena are forced to split up for business reasons. I expected it to be one of those typical plots where the woman learns to know her place, and realizes that she shouldn't put her career ahead of her love-life. I was pleasantly surprised. Ralph Cooper does a fine job playing Duke, and we also get to see him at work as a band leader. There are several other thoroughly enjoyable characters as well, such as Duke's humorous con-man buddy who becomes Duke's partner after he splits with Lena. The scenes where Duke and the con-man sell patent medicine in small southern towns are really funny. We also get to see some fine musical performances not only by Lena Horne and Ralph Cooper, but also by an obscure but wonderful group called The Cats and the Fiddle, who resemble the Mills Brothers. This is a movie that I enjoy watching again and again. The sound isn't too great in the beginning (maybe that's just my copy), but then it improves after the first few scenes. I highly recommend this movie, especially if you are, as I am, a fan of early jazz and African-American cinema.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Annie Van Auken TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 20, 2012
Format: DVD
Niche market DVD purveyor REEL CLASSICS FILMS' product is "best available source," with quality that varies from only fair to acceptable. Extras are non-existent.

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THE DUKE IS TOPS, an 80-minute movie shot in just ten days, was also twenty-one-year-old Lena Horne's inauspicious screen debut. As Ethel, the so-called Bronze Venus, she's unrecognizably fat, has pencil line brows, plus a bad hairstyle and make-up. That classic voice hasn't emerged yet and wouldn't until her 1947 marriage to Lennie Hayton. His invaluable support and encouragement helped make Lena a star.

SYNOPSIS
The "Duke" is a show promoter who falls on hard times when he makes sure that his star performer, Ethel has a shot at the Big Time. Now impoverished, Duke is reduced to working in an itinerant medicine show. This unlikely format eventually leads to renewed success for him. Some especially good musical sequences include talented tapping by Willie Covan, also the Basin Street Boys, a quartet with guitar that sound like the early Mills Bros. A film worth seeing.

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Parenthetical number preceding title is a 1 to 10 IMDb viewer poll rating.

(5.2) The Duke is Tops (1938) - Ralph Cooper/Lena Horne/Laurence Criner/Monte HawleyWillie Covan/Neva Peoples/Johnny Taylor/Basin Street Boys/Rubberneck Holmes/Cats and the Fiddle
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Format: DVD
If The Duke Is Tops needs to be remembered today, it's for two reasons. First, this was Lena Horne's first movie. She was 21 and still has a little baby fat. The voice catches you immediately. She's no actress yet, and all that sleek sophistication is in the future. She's already a stunning looker, however, with a great smile. In a satin dress with her shoulders just a little sloped and a toss of her head while she looks at the sky, she reminds me a lot of Jean Harlow, sexy and good-natured. "Look at that personality," a promoter says while the character she's playing is on-stage singing, "she's a cinch for the big-time. Hear that voice? That's what they're buying!" The second reason, as with all the other cheaply-produced all-Negro films aimed for the movie equivalent of the chitlin circuit, are the specialty acts. This circuit was made up of law-enforced segregated movie houses in the south and de facto segregated movie houses everywhere else. The speciality acts preserved on these films are often the only things we have left to witness some great black entertainers. In The Duke Is Tops we have William Covan, a stylish tap dancer; Rubber Neck Holmes, a singular combination of tap and odd gymnastics; Cats and the Fiddle, a swinging singing group; Marie Bryant, a terrific exotic dancer in African costume; the Basin Street Boys, a singing group who are all style; plus the Harlemania Orchestra.

What's the plot? Duke Davis (Ralph Cooper), a big, multi-talented, good-looking guy, is a small-time producer of variety shows in the south. His latest review is the Sepia Scandals. Ethel Andrews (Lena Horne) is his headliner. He brought her along to stardom, even if it's just small-town stardom. They think the world of each other and dream of making the big-time on Broadway together.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Annie Van Auken TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 18, 2013
Format: DVD
WESTLAKE ENTERTAINMENT is a Chatsworth CA. based DVD outfit that's been in operation for some years, yet they don't seem to have a website. In 2006, Westlake's new owners changed their catalog from public domain material to first run features. This title predates the transition.

.
THE DUKE IS TOPS, an 80-minute movie shot in just ten days, was also twenty-one-year-old Lena Horne's inauspicious screen debut. As Ethel, the so-called Bronze Venus, she's unrecognizably fat, has pencil line brows, plus a bad hairstyle and make-up. That classic voice hasn't emerged yet and wouldn't until her 1947 marriage to Lennie Hayton. His invaluable support and encouragement helped make Lena a star.

SYNOPSIS
The "Duke" is a show promoter who falls on hard times when he makes sure that his star performer, Ethel has a shot at the Big Time. Now impoverished, Duke is reduced to working in an itinerant medicine show. This unlikely format eventually leads to renewed success for him. Some especially good musical sequences include talented tapping by Willie Covan, also the Basin Street Boys, a quartet with guitar that sound like the early Mills Bros. A film worth seeing.

.
Parenthetical number preceding title is a 1 to 10 IMDb viewer poll rating.

(5.2) The Duke is Tops (1938) - Ralph Cooper/Lena Horne/Laurence Criner/Monte Hawley/Willie Covan/Neva Peoples/Johnny Taylor/Basin Street Boys/Rubberneck Holmes/Cats and the Fiddle
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