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 reflected current tastes in jazz and rhythm and blues.
The Duke Is Tops features the film debut of singer Lena Horne, then just 20, who 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, Stormy Weather and a few later films, she would rarely enjoy. The original top billed star, Ralph Cooper, was host of Amateur Night at the Apollo Theatre for 50 years. He also served as the movie’s production manager.
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