Hearts in Dixie (1929)

71 mins | Comedy-drama | 10 March 1929

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HISTORY

Hearts in Dixie was the first feature film produced by a major studio (Fox Film Corp.) with an all-black cast, and the first African-American musical. Advertisements boasted that it was "the screen's first singing, dancing and talking comedy of the Southland, with two hundred entertainers from the levees and cotton fields." As noted in the 9 Dec 1928 Chicago Tribune, it was the first of several films then being made in Hollywood that featured all, or primarily, African-American casts.
       The working title was North of Dixie, as indicated in a 31 Oct 1928 Exhibitors Daily Review item, which reported that "noted negro star" Charles Gilpin had been cast in the film, based on Walter Weems's stage play, Lonesome Road. On 12 Dec 1928, New York Amsterdam News reported that Gilpin had finished shooting; however, later that month, an article in the 29 Dec 1928 [Baltimore, MD] Afro-American announced that Gilpin, whose weekly salary was said to be $1,200, was let go from the production for unstated reasons, and actor George Reed was set to replace him. The article recalled that Gilpin had likewise been “mysteriously relieved of his work” on the Universal Pictures Corp. production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1928, see entry). By mid-Jan 1929, George Reed was also out, according to a 19 Jan 1929 [Norfolk, VA] New Journal and Guide item, which named Clarence Muse as the new leading man.
       In the meantime, the 8 Dec 1928 Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World cited a production starting date of 24 Nov 1928. Principal photography was likely ...

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Hearts in Dixie was the first feature film produced by a major studio (Fox Film Corp.) with an all-black cast, and the first African-American musical. Advertisements boasted that it was "the screen's first singing, dancing and talking comedy of the Southland, with two hundred entertainers from the levees and cotton fields." As noted in the 9 Dec 1928 Chicago Tribune, it was the first of several films then being made in Hollywood that featured all, or primarily, African-American casts.
       The working title was North of Dixie, as indicated in a 31 Oct 1928 Exhibitors Daily Review item, which reported that "noted negro star" Charles Gilpin had been cast in the film, based on Walter Weems's stage play, Lonesome Road. On 12 Dec 1928, New York Amsterdam News reported that Gilpin had finished shooting; however, later that month, an article in the 29 Dec 1928 [Baltimore, MD] Afro-American announced that Gilpin, whose weekly salary was said to be $1,200, was let go from the production for unstated reasons, and actor George Reed was set to replace him. The article recalled that Gilpin had likewise been “mysteriously relieved of his work” on the Universal Pictures Corp. production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1928, see entry). By mid-Jan 1929, George Reed was also out, according to a 19 Jan 1929 [Norfolk, VA] New Journal and Guide item, which named Clarence Muse as the new leading man.
       In the meantime, the 8 Dec 1928 Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World cited a production starting date of 24 Nov 1928. Principal photography was likely based at Fox Film Corp.’s studio facilities at Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue in Hollywood, CA. According to a 9 Dec 1928 Chicago Tribune article, scenes set in a cotton field were shot on location near Bakersfield, CA.
       In early 1929, Hearts in Dixie was previewed in Fresno and San Jose, CA. A 13 Feb 1929 Var item noted that, in response to comments from preview audiences, filmmakers planned to alter the ending in order to better explain the absence of a boy character who figured prominently early on, but “faded out” toward the film’s ending. As noted in the 20 Feb 1929 Var, dual premieres occurred on 14 Feb 1929 in San Jose and Sacramento, CA, at Fox-West Coast Theatres. The picture was scheduled to have its East Coast premiere on 25 Feb 1929 at New York City’s Gaiety Theatre, according to the 20 Feb 1929 Var. The Los Angeles, CA, premiere was followed by a banquet given for the cast at the Hotel Sommerville (later known as the Dunbar Hotel), as noted in the 16 Mar 1929 Pittsburgh Courier.
       Critical reception was mixed. In the 9 Mar 1929 Pittsburgh Courier, an African American reviewer complained that director Paul Sloane “preferred to adhere to the old tradition that the American public loves to see our people singing in the cotton fields and dancing in the sand, barefooted” and facetiously described the lead character, Nappus, as “a good, good, good ole darky.” To the contrary, a 6 Apr 1929 Afro-American article quoted the following from the Billboard review: “Little skepticism is felt on [the film’s] reception by both Negroes and whites generally as there is nothing evident in the production which would antagonize either race.” The Afro-American did acknowledge Fox’s concerns that the release, especially in Northern states, might stir up racist feelings if it led to too much “intermingling of whites and blacks” in theater audiences; such concerns did not apply to the Southern states, where theaters were strictly segregated.
       The 15 Dec 1928 Afro-American listed “voodoo woman” Madame Sul-Te-Wan as a cast member. An advertisement in The San Jose News on 21 Feb 1929 listed the following additional song titles among the "25 songs you'll love" in the picture: "Lil' Liza Jane," and "All Over Heaven."

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Afro-American [Baltimore, MD]
15 Dec 1928
p. 5
Afro-American [Baltimore, MD]
15 Dec 1928
p. 9
Afro-American [Baltimore, MD]
29 Dec 1928
p. 9
Afro-American [Baltimore, MD]
6 Apr 1929
p. 28
Afro-American [Baltimore, MD]
25 May 1929
p. 10
Afro-American [Baltimore, MD]
8 Jun 1929
p. 10
California Eagle
14 Dec 1928
---
California Eagle
21 Dec 1928
---
Chicago Defender
12 Jan 1929
p. 7
Chicago Defender
16 Mar 1929
pt. I, p. 6
Chicago Tribune
9 Dec 1928
p. 17
Christian Science Monitor
5 Mar 1929
p. 7
Exhibitor's Daily Review
31 Oct 1928
p. 4
Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World
8 Dec 1928
p. 50
Film Daily
3 Mar 1929
---
New Journal and Guide
19 Jan 1929
p. 3
New York Amsterdam News
12 Dec 1928
pp. 6-7
New York Amsterdam News
17 Apr 1929
p. 13
New York Times
28 Feb 1929
p. 30
New York Times
10 Mar 1929
---
Philadelphia Tribune
7 Mar 1929
p. 6
Pittsburgh Courier
9 Mar 1929
Section A, p. 1
Pittsburgh Courier
16 Mar 1929
Section A, p. 1
Reading Eagle
9 Jun 1929
p. 12
San Jose News
21 Feb 1929
p. 6
Variety
28 Nov 1928
p. 62
Variety
13 Feb 1929
p. 4
Variety
20 Feb 1929
p. 78
Variety
6 Mar 1929
p. 15
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Paul Sloane
Dir
Addl dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
Scen, story and dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
FILM EDITOR
SOUND
Arthur L. von Kirbach
Sd
DANCE
Fanchon & Marco
Choreog
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play by Walter Weems, Lonesome Road (production date unknown).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
SONGS
"Hearts in Dixie," music and lyrics by Walter Weems and Howard Jackson; Deep River" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," music and lyrics by Henry Thacker Burleigh; "Old Folks at Home," music and lyrics by Stephen Foster; and other songs.
SONGWRITERS/COMPOSERS
+
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Hearts of Dixie
North of Dixie
Release Date:
10 March 1929
Premiere Information:
San Jose and Sacramento, CA, premieres: 14 Feb 1929; New York opening: 25 Feb 1929; Los Angeles opening: 6 Mar 1929
Production Date:
began 24 Nov 1928
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Fox Film Corp.
16 March 1929
LP234
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
71
Length(in feet):
6,444
Length(in reels):
8
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Nappus, an old black man who works a farm despite his advanced years, has a daughter named Chloe who is married to Gummy, a shiftless young man who does nothing but sun himself while Chloe does both the housework and the manual labor. Gummy and Chloe have two children, Chiquapin and Trailia. Chloe and Trailia are taken ill, and instead of sending for the white doctor, Gummy sends for the voodoo woman. Both mother and daughter die, and Nappus sells his farm and his mule to raise enough money to send Chiquapin north to become a doctor, hoping that the boy will someday return south to help his ...

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Nappus, an old black man who works a farm despite his advanced years, has a daughter named Chloe who is married to Gummy, a shiftless young man who does nothing but sun himself while Chloe does both the housework and the manual labor. Gummy and Chloe have two children, Chiquapin and Trailia. Chloe and Trailia are taken ill, and instead of sending for the white doctor, Gummy sends for the voodoo woman. Both mother and daughter die, and Nappus sells his farm and his mule to raise enough money to send Chiquapin north to become a doctor, hoping that the boy will someday return south to help his people.

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GENRE
Genre:
Sub-genre:
African American, with songs


Subject

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.