Now that I finally gave in and ordered cable TV for my apartment, I can watch TCM (Turner Classic Movies) again, affording me the opportunity to see rarely-screened (and in some cases, commercially unavailable) films from the early half of the 20th century, when the medium was still in its relative infancy, like the one below. Although it’s a short, not a feature.
This 15-minute 1943 MGM film tells the story of a shoe shine boy (played by Melvin C. Bryant), trying desperately to earn money in order to purchase a trumpet for his first day in the U.S. Army. It’s very much a film of its time… for better and for worse. But it’s a part of our history.
It comes courtesy of Turner Classic Movies – a wartime period film made at MGM with some flag-waving and racism that was of its time as I said previously. But it is notable for the earnestness of its leading man, Melvin C. Bryant (1924–2001), and his talent on the trumpet, which, in a way, separates this short from others of the period.
He needs $2 so that he can buy a horn from a pawn shop, deciding to work for the money by shining shoes for men played by Walter Catlett & Sam Levene, character actors of their day portraying 2 competitive, but down-on-their-luck show biz agents. They hear the young black man play, and are instantly smitten, as is everyone else within ear-shot, and offer him a contract, arguing over which of them has “claims” on the young “boy.”
Melvin C. Bryant’s acting career comprised of mostly TV gigs, like appearances on “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son,” “All in the Family,” and “Archie Bunker’s Place.” He died on May 15, 2001 in Las Vegas.
“Shoe Shine Boy” was his very first onscreen performance.