Mill Creek Musings: Check and Double Check (1930)

Appearing in Mill Creek’s 50 Classic Musicals set, Check and Double Check is described as “the first and only appearance of the radio stars Amos ‘n’ Andy reprising their roles on the big screen” in the set’s accompanying booklet. (This isn’t exactly true. Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll would appear briefly as Amos and Andy in The Big Broadcast of 1936. However, it is true that no sequels to this film were produced, so this was their only starring film.)

The plot follows the two men as they attempt to make their “open-air” taxi company a success. After one of their cars breaks down in the middle of traffic, they attempt to rebound from that setback by driving a group of musicians (Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra) to a ritzy, high-society party where they’re scheduled to perform.

(Image via millcreekent.com)
(Image via millcreekent.com)

Audiences were excited to finally put faces to the two voices they’d been hearing on the hit radio program. None of them expected what they found upon visiting their local movie-houses to see this film: two white actors in heavy stage make-up (“blackface”). The film was a box office hit for RKO, audiences packing theaters to see what they at the time considered to be a “novelty.”

Amos and Andy have remained controversial characters ever since, and they’re not characters that I’m personally fond of. I probably wouldn’t be watching or reviewing this film if not for my dedication to reviewing all of the Mill Creek releases in my collection.

But since I am dedicated to the Mill Creek Musings project, I decided to make an attempt to put my qualms about the film and its comedic duo aside, judging the story separately from the film’s problematic elements.

Unfortunately, the story fails, too. The side characters are forgettable stock personalities with very little dimension, if any at all. The comedy falls completely flat. Putting the scenario on film did nothing to elevate it from what it would have been as a radio program. And if you’re not going to take advantage of the different creative possibilities of a medium (quality sight gags, for example), why put it on film in the first place?

Duke Ellington’s music is the one bright spot of the film, but even his band’s presence in Check and Double Check is problematic. Director Melville Brown made two of Ellington’s band members wear dark stage make-up so they would “match” Amos, Andy and the rest of Ellington’s band.

Apparently, not even the stars, Gosden and Correll, were happy with this picture. Godsen reportedly went so far as to call it “just about the worst movie ever.”

Unless you’re doing research on racial stereotypes in classic entertainment or want to skip through to Ellington’s musical numbers, skip this one. Not only is it full of caricatures, but it’s also just a big bore.

A note on the print’s technical quality: The sound is very crackly, especially early on. The picture is also a bit faded and there is a constant (though not too heavy) grain to it. Middle-of-the-road print for a public domain film set.

 

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