Gang Smashers (1938) | Nina Mae McKinney & Mantan Moreland

In 1937, Ralph Cooper and George Randol, two African Americans, and Ben Rinaldo, a white American, organized the Cooper-Randol Pro-duction Company in Los Angeles. The same year, Cooper and Harry Fraser’s Dark Manhattan (Cooper-Randol Production Company, 1937) became the first all-black-cast gangster film made in Hollywood.’ The film dramatizes a man’s rise in the numbers racket, his love for a night-club singer, and his death at the hands of a rival mobster. The Cooper-Randol film company was short-lived and produced only one film; Ralph Cooper left the company and established Million Dollar Produc-tions with Harry and Leo Popkin, two white Americans. Cooper wrote and sometimes directed, while the Popkin brothers financed and distrib-uted Cooper’s films.’ Their first such collaboration was Bargain with Bul-lets (Million Dollar Productions, 1937), which Cooper wrote, directed, and starred in.’ The following year, Cooper wrote Gang Smashers (Mil-lion Dollar Productions, 1938), which featured Nina Mae McKinney as a Harlem crime boss (almost ten years earlier, McKinney had performed the leading role of Chick in King Vidor’s black musical Hallelujah! [MGM, 1929]). In the film Gang War (Million Dollar Productions, 1939), Cooper portrayed a mobster who struggles unsuccessfully for con-trol over the jukebox machines in Harlem. Gang War was Cooper’s last film for the Popkin brothers’ Million Dollar Productions.

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