Cast & Crew
Jess Lee Brooks
When Larry B. "L. B." Lee, the top numbers banker in Harlem, visits the poolroom of one of his accounts, Jack Jackson, he witnesses James A. "Curly" Thorpe break up a knife fight and, impressed with his performance, asks Curly to join his organization, which he emphasizes does not use underhanded methods. Curly quickly distinguishes himself as tough on district operators, whose business is declining, and grows ambitious in his desire to be the most talked about man in Harlem. He also wants to steal the affections of L. B.'s girl friend, Flo Gray, a radio singer who appears at the Club Congo. After L. B., who has been warned by his doctor to take a rest, has a heart attack while dining with Flo, Curly runs the operation while L. B. recuperates. Curly institutes gangster methods to force smaller operations to pay for protection, and doubles the bank's income, which causes ten days of gang warfare and police raids, culminating in a district attorney's effort to smash the numbers racket. Although Curly and Flo keep newspaper reports away from L. B., the heads of the other numbers banks reveal the situation to him, after which he promises to redistribute the money his bank made. Curly, however, refuses to part with the money made since he took over and prevails upon L. B. to take a trip for his health. After Curly tells the bankers' association that he wants twenty percent from every banker for protection, Butch Williams, a rival who operates at the Club Congo, offers protection for five percent. During a shoot out at the club, Curly is mortally wounded, and he dies in the arms of Flo, who has grown to love him.
Jess Lee Brooks
Dark Manhattan -
Versatile Ralph Cooper, who also performed uncredited chores as co-producer, co-writer and co-director, stars in the movie. Following in the anti-hero footsteps of mainstream stars James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart, Cooper plays Curly, a small-time hood who fights his way to the top of the crime heap. A chaste chanteuse (Cleo Herndon, who sings "The Sweetest Moment of My Life") inspires Curly to go straight, but a rival gang begins muscling in on his territory, culminating in a violent climax. Dark Manhattan benefits from unusually good production values for this type of modestly budgeted "race" film.
Producer: Harry M. Popkin, George Randol (Executive Producer), Ben Rinaldo (Associate), Ralph Cooper (uncredited)
Director: Harry L. Fraser, Ralph Cooper (uncredited)
Screenplay: George Randol, Ralph Cooper (uncredited), from story by Randol
Cinematography: Arthur Reed
Original Music: Harvey Brooks, Ben Ellison
Editing: Arthur A. Brooks
Principal Cast: Ralph Cooper (James A. "Curly" Thorpe), Cleo Herndon (Flo "Babe" Gray), Clarence Brooks (Larry Lee), Jess Lee Brooks (Lieutenant Luke Ballot), Sam McDaniels (Jack Jackson).
by Roger Fristoe
Dark Manhattan -
This was the first all-black film produced in Hollywood.
Before the opening credits of this film, a title card reads: "We dedicate this picture to the memories of R. B. Harrison, Bert Williams, Florence Mills and all of the pioneer Negro actors who by their many sacrifices made this presentation possible." According to an December 11, 1936 Hollywood Reporter news item, Randol-Cooper Productions was "formed to produce pictures for theaters catering largely to Negro trade," and this was to be the first of six features planned for the year. The news item also states that Leslie Goodwins was going to direct, Ralph Like was to be the associate producer, Nina Mae McKinney would play opposite Ralph Cooper, and that shooting would begin on 18 December at Talisman studios. No information has been located to confirm that Goodwins, Like or McKinney were actually involved with the film, or that the Talisman studios were used. A January 6, 1937 Hollywood Reporter news item states that filming wound up the previous day at International studios, however, modern sources state that the film was shot at the old Grand National studio in Hollywood.
According to a February 6, 1937 news item in Pittsburgh Courier, on 4 February "pandemonium broke out at the Tivoli theater [in Los Angeles when the film] failed to have the gala world premiere as advertised several weeks in advance." The event reportedly turned into a riot when, instead of the premiere showing of the film, the audience was shown other films. The article also notes that in the foyer of the theater, "many actors who worked on the film told of not being paid for their work," and that the AMPAS, in a statement to the press about the "unhappy incident," called the producers of the film "fly by night wild cats that spring up over night."
A December 22, 1936 Hollywood Reporter news item states that because of a possible ban on films in which white men speak lines in films exhibited in theaters catering to the black trade in New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, the producers lined up two sets of extras and supporting players, one containing white actors and the other all black, pending word from the Hays Office. In January 1937, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, it was decided that the film would have an all-black cast.
According to the file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA, on December 23, 1936, informed Randall [sic] Cooper Productions that the film was "in violation of the Code" because it failed to present the "numbers" racket as a "definite illegal activity," and because it failed to "show the police as being active in suppressing the racket." The PCA also noted in the letter that it was their understanding that omitted from the film would be the "indication that the gangsters who muscle in on the racket are white gangsters, [which would] eliminate any suggestion of conflict between whites and negroes." In addition to this, the PCA insisted on the elimination of the showing of machine guns in the hands of gangsters, illicit sex between "Flo" and "Curly," and any suggestion that "Flo" is a loose woman.
Although Variety calls the film a "Renaldo Films release," the distributor was probably Rinaldo Films, as Ben Rinaldo was listed as associate producer in the credits. Variety called the film the "best technically ever made with complete colored cast." Modern sources state that the film was produced by Million Dollar Pictures, Renaldo Films and Cooper-Randol Productions; that it was the first black film produced in Hollywood; that Arthur Brooks wrote the screenplay; and that actor Ralph Cooper, sometimes billed as "the Bronze Bogart," co-directed with Harry Fraser.