“Mr. Crouch was not obsessed with breasts. He just knew what would look good to the audience in a Soundie. And he always had a lot of respect for the ladies and he never ever acted in a way that was not with respect.” So commented Mable Lee in a telephone interview. Ms. Lee was in so many Soundies that Ebony Magazine (March 1947) proclaimed her “The Queen of Soundies.” She should know.
William Forest Crouch produced and/or directed more than six hundred Soundies, most for Bronx-based Filmcraft Productions. Crouch was not an especially inventive director. Unlike others who directed Soundies — Reginald LeBorg, Dave Gould and Roy Mack, for example — Crouch did not have a great deal of previous film making experience. He did not employ fancy complicated visual effects (as did Neil McGuire), could not edit his own product (John Primi directed and edited his films), and was uncomfortable with large numbers of sideline artists (Fred Waller routinely worked with large groups on screen). Apart from his tendency to include images of scantily clad, well-developed women whenever possible, the hallmark of most Crouch Soundies is their straight forward, non-cluttered visual presentation.
Crouch was also a huge fan of African American music and dance, and he is responsible for preserving the sound and images of many who would otherwise go undocumented. Henry “Red” Allen was, of course, a well-known jazz musician, and the group seen in this Soundie could be seen nightly during early 1946 at any number of Manhattan nightspots. Although the Soundie is titled Crawl, Red, Crawl,” it is actually Allen’s composition “The Crawl.” Featured within the three-minute running time are terrific solos by Allen, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham and the underrated alto sax Don Stovall. Allen and Higginbotham had met the late 1920s and played together in the Mills Blue Rhythm Band and Louis Armstrong’s orchestra; the musical empathy between the two is solid. New York-based Stovall had worked with Buddy Johnson and Sammy Price, and it is nice to hear his “jump style” alto on this tune.
I suspect that in a perfect world William Forest Crouch would have preferred just to let the music play. But Crouch realized that an added visual element was necessary, so dancer Johni Weaver was added to the cast. Little known of Weaver, save that she was not a regular part of either the Sun Tan Studios performance team nor a member of the Zanzibeuats, which often lent dancers to the Panoram screen; she was possibly married to another Soundie dancer, Harry Turner. Mable Lee recalled Weaver and said that she was a “real sweet gal.” While Weaver’s performance, and the camera’s emphasis on her upper torso, is unnecessary, it does not detract much from a solid performance by Henry “Red” Allen and his band. Mop!