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Film / Body and Soul

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Body and Soul is a 1925 film directed by Oscar Micheaux.

An escaped convict (Paul Robeson—it's a silent film so unfortunately Robeson the magnificent Basso Profundo doesn't sing) has made his way to a small town in Georgia, where he is impersonating a Protestant minister. The "Reverend Isaiah Jenkins" is hardly reformed. He drinks during sermons, and when he's not drinking during sermons he's drinking at the local speakeasy, and when he's not drinking at the speakeasy he's shaking down the owner of the speakeasy for a payoff, threatening to condemn the speakeasy from the pulpit if the owner doesn't pay up.

The only one who sees through Isaiah is pretty young Isabelle, one of his parishioners. Unfortunately for her, her mother Martha, who has been completely hoodwinked by the good reverend, is determined that Isabella will marry the "godly man". Isabella prefers to marry handsome, nurturing Sylvester, who just happens to be Isaiah's twin brother (and of course is also played by Paul Robeson).


Film debut of Paul Robeson, who had already hit it big on the stage. Originally nine reels, but Micheaux had to cut it to five reels to get it past New York censors.


  • All Just a Dream: Most of the film is Martha's dream, including everything with Rev. Jenkins, who apparently doesn't exist. The film ends with Isabelle, who isn't dead, happily married to Sylvester. While this ending was supposedly forced on Micheaux by New York censors, it does justify the gaping Plot Hole in the narrative—if the story is "real" it's hard to justify why no one knows the truth about Rev. Jenkins when his twin brother lives in the same town. (It's also interesting how Martha's dreams have flashbacks.)
  • Dramatic Irony: A lot of this in the scene where Martha is upbraiding her daughter for insulting "that godly man", Rev. Jenkins, whom the audience knows is a criminal and a drunkard.
  • Flashback
    • A brief one shows that Isaiah and Curley Hinds were jailbirds together, sharing the same cell.
    • A longer one shows Isaiah raping Isabelle (or rather the leadup to Isaiah raping Isabelle, as the flashback cuts away with a Rape Discretion Shot).
    • And another long flashback shows that it was Isaiah who forced Isabelle to give up her mother's hidden stash of money, and that Isabelle ran off because she knew her mother would never believe her.
  • Funetik Aksent: All the uneducated speech of the uneducated black characters is rendered this way. ("Aah done had a ter'ble dream.")
  • Hangover Sensitivity: On two different occasions the hard-drinking "Reverend Jenkins" is seen holding his head and wincing as he gets up in the morning.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Isabelle is holding a rag up to her mouth and coughing when Martha finds her. Martha then comes back home and, when she's dramatically denouncing Rev. Jenkins, says her daughter is dead.
  • I Want My Mommy!: The guy that Isaiah beat to death with a log says "Mama" right before he expires.
  • Kubrick Stare: Isaiah casts a lustful and extremely disturbing Kubrick Stare at Isabelle, right before he rapes her.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Martha expresses her disbelief with dramatic cow-milking gestures when Isabelle says it was actually Rev. Jenkins who stole her life savings.
  • The Name And The Name: Body and Soul
  • N-Word Privileges: A point of contention, it seems. Educated, refined Isabelle tells her uneducated mom, "Dont say 'niggah' Mother, it's vulgar."
  • Race Film: One of many "race films" directed by Oscar Micheaux. Race films were works made outside the Hollywood studio system, by black creators for black audiences.
  • Time Skip: "Months later" brings us to Atlanta, where Martha finally tracks down Isabelle. She finds her daughter penniless and dying of TB.
  • Title Drop: Isabelle is "Crushed—body and soul" after her mother says she must marry Rev. Jenkins.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Everyone trusts Rev. Jenkins. Even Isabelle once did, until the moment in the backstory when he raped her.

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