As I have mentioned in earlier posts, Soundies were “equal-opportunity offenders.” While African Americans and Asians took the brunt on screen, no ethnic group was left unscathed. Many of the obvious stereotypes were in place whenever Native Americans appeared on screen, although the treatment was more gentle than that afforded other groups.
Soundies publicity materials describe headliners Neeahtha and Nucomi as “a full-blooded Indian dance team.” And while one can never count on the veracity of said publicity department, in this case it appears to be true. Sonny (Nucomi) Chorre, the male half of the team, was a dancer and actor who appeared in dozens of films between 1934 and 1957, almost always as a Native American. (He also wrestled professionally under the name Suni Warcloud.) Little has been discovered about his partner, Neeahtha Perry, save that the 23-year old was living in Los Angeles at the time the Soundie was produced.
In the early 17th century, tobacco was introduced to the English, purchased (or perhaps stolen) from American Indians … leading to the beginning of the image of carved wooden Indians displayed in front of tobacco stores. That trope is utilized here, although the two performers are also presented in contemporary dress.
“War Dance for Wooden Indians” in one of Raymond Scott’s compositions where the music fits the image perfectly. Also billed on screen is Ben Pollack and his Orchestra, although his band appears on soundtrack only. The music and tom-tom beat notwithstanding, the dance is not Native American, although a few steps reflect what most people think of as “Indian dance.” Rather, the routine is a miss-mash of 1940s jitterbug steps and those that might be seem on any theater stage. The entire performance is well-rehearsal and is obviously something that the two had worked out earlier, and quite possible used on theater or nightclub stages.
This Soundie is relatively unknown, but I think that it is one deserving far greater attention. Enjoy!