Year Released: 1935
Distributor: Kino Classics
Running Time: 15 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: G
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Verdict Not Guilty, Hell-Bound Train
-This review reflects the remastered version of the Pioneers of African-American Cinema collection as seen on DVD, Blu-Ray, and on Netflix.
-This short film and Verdict Not Guilty were packaged together as an “episode” due to the short length of these films. That review is done separately.
-Co-director Eloyce Gist plays the woman in Heaven-Bound Travelers.
-Heaven-Bound Travelers was played in churches and community centers as opposed to movie theaters.
-Technically, this film was incomplete, but it was reconstructed and remastered for a coherent plot sort of like the original Joan of Arc silent film.
I looked up more films as I discovered this collection from Kino Classics when it came to the first generation of African-American filmmakers with all these old films from the 1910s to the 1940s. Right after watching Verdict Not Guilty, this other film from James and Eloyce Gist played right after as it was encoded on the same episode online.
Heaven-Bound Travelers deals with a family that’s been divided. There’s a woman who does her best to follow God. However, she’s falsely accused of cheating on her husband, so her beloved husband leaves her to struggle on her own. The husband starts to be filled with guilt for accusing her of infidelity while also realizing how far away from God as he’s drifting away.
The production from this short film was more of the same, but I can tell that there was more ambition and goals with this film. There’s a bigger plot at play and the supernatural elements are toned down except for the end scene. Not many films used so much realism or intense drama at this time with the exception of the first generation of film noir out there. The fact that they used a false cheating accusation was certainly bold for it’s time and it would still be a bit intense since it’s the husband who’s accusing the wife which still doesn’t happen much in modern films. I do applaud the Gists for taking more chances with this film. I did think it was lazy when they reused the transitions from Verdict Not Guilty, but that was a minor downside. I can tell there was more effort there.
The updated score was quite good. The organ and piano pieces are still there, but they added some melismatic vocalizations. There is some Gospel type crooning going on with various sounds and the occasional “Oh yes” thrown in for good measure. As a silent film hearing words can be surreal despite some talkie movies already being out at that time, but I did find the music choice to be alright.
Much like my issues with the Gists other short film, the preachy narrative continues in Heaven-Bound Travelers. The Christian imagery is so blatant and overblown with the random scripture texts which show up more often. The famous end scene involves a metaphorical fight between an angel and a devil. The person in the devil costume looked unintentionally hilarious with me despite it being a serious movie. He looked ridiculous in that getup. I get that it’s supposed to represent the husband’s inner struggles and faith, but they could’ve really toned town the Christian imagery. Also, this film was technically incomplete. I could picture this movie being longer, but I didn’t know it was like that until I did my research about Heaven-Bound Travelers. Could’ve fooled me, and it’s not the Gists’ fault since old films age very badly and can corrode, but I do applaud the Library of Congress and Kino Classics for fixing up as much as they could.
Heaven-Bound Travelers was still a preachy film, but I feel that there was more effort in the production and storytelling there. There are some unintentionally campy moments like the angel devil fight, but I can tell that there’s a serious story going on. The music there works quite well with the atmosphere of the film. I did get uncomfortable with parts not just because of the Christian overtones shoved in, but with the woman’s plight to sustain her family by making money as a maidservant for a Caucasian family. I know it was super common in the 30s given how much worse race relations were back then compared to now (and even then, it’s still bad despite any progress America has made), but it can be tough watching those brief scenes in this day and age. I do credit James and Eloyce Gist for trying their hand at a serious drama, but the preachy story does hinder it.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you like silent films
Subtract 2-3 points if you can’t stand Christian messages in films
-Ambition in making a serious drama
-The earth scenes are believable
-Overt Christian messages
-Unintentionally funny devil costuming
-Unfortunate implications despite historical accuracy with the woman’s employment
Final Score: 5/10 points
Content Warning: Not much objectionable content except for a couple of things. The husband does slap his wife after accusing her of cheating on him and the accusation of cheating can go over the heads of younger viewers.
Photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.