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The Duke is Tops


Duke Davis (Ralph Cooper) has invested all his savings to back his sweetheart, Ethel (Lena Horne), in a road show over the old T.O.B.A. circuit, on which they have both been performers since childhood. Marshall (Monte Hawley), a New York talent scout, makes an offer to Ethel as a single and, to induce her to take it, Duke writes a fake check, made out to him, for $5000 pretending he has sold his contract with Ethel to Marshall. Resentful and heartbroken, she accepts and becomes a big hit in New York.

The Duke Is Tops is a 1938 American musical film released by Million Dollar Productions and directed by William Nolte. The film was later released in 1943 under the title The Bronze Venus, with Lena Horne given top billing.
The film was one of a number of low-budgeted musicals (or "race movies") made in the 1930s and 1940s for the African-American market. The casts and production teams of these films were almost all black, and the music lected current tastes in jazz and rhythm and blues.
The Duke Is Tops features the film debut of singer Lena Horne, who was still 20 at the time and living as a housewife with her first husband in Pittsburgh, PA. She had yet to develop the smooth, classy style she would distinguish herself with in her later films for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Notably, Horne has a major acting role in this film, something that save for 1943's Cabin in the Sky and a few later films, she would rarely enjoy.
The original top billed star Ralph Cooper (Apollo) was host of Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater for 50 years. He also served as the movie's production manager.


Duke Davis is a stage show promoter in love with Ethel Andrews, a popular singer in his company dubbed "the Bronze Venus". Duke finds out that big-time promoters from New York City want to propel Ethel into the big leagues, but Ethel, out of loyalty and love for Duke, uses to leave his small-time show. Duke, in a selfless act, orchestrates a deception to force Ethel to leave his show in order to better her career.
However, the loss of the Bronze Venus causes Duke's own career to collapse and he soon finds himself working on a travelling medicine show where he goes from town to town, introducing a series of specialty musical acts and helping to sell Doc Dorando's all-purpose elixir. But when he hears that Ethel's New York gig is a flop, Duke goes to New York where he is reunited with her. Soon after, Duke combines his stage show, the medicine show and Ethel's singing into a top nightclub act.


  • Ralph Cooper (Apollo) as Duke Davis
  • Lena Horne as Ethel Andrews
  • Laurence Criner as Doc Dorando


The movie includes several outstanding artists, including Lena Horne and the Cats & the Fiddle. Lena Horne as Ethel sings the Harvey Brooks & Ben Ellison composition "I Know You Remember," with lyrics apropos of the film, "You & I have made a small beginning..." Lena also sings "Don't Let Our Love Song Turn Me Blue" with a lyric that foreshadows one of her future great roles: "True love will guide us through stormy weather." And she reprises "I Know You Remember." The Cats & the Fiddle sing "Killin' Jive." This is a great performance, four guys harmonizing on a very jumpin' good song.


The Duke Is Tops has been released on DVD in North America. The film is in the public domain in America, and as such is available in multiple editions.

Category:1938 films
Category:1930s musical films
Category:American romantic musical films
Category:Black-and-white films
Category:English-language films
Category:Films set in New York City
Category:Race films
Leo C. Popkin

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