1929~ Hallelujah- This film came out when the 1920s were coming to an end. The Roaring Twenties and The Jazz Age was all coming to a close. But this film represents all that, people got a last chance to see that in Hallelujah and in The Broadway Melody and The Hollywood Revue which were also one of the first few talkies all from MGM. Even though the 1920s were coming to a close. Audiences had something to look forward too; the arrival of Talkies. Nina Mae McKinney performance in Hallelujah made everyone miss the wild 1920s but it also gave them something to look forward too The New Talkie Era. Nina Mae was the Voice of The Black Community. If you want to see a non-sterotypical, before its time film, Hallelujah is it. Nina Mae McKinney is the ultimate "Femme Fatale" in her role as Chick. A girl who has some good in her, but evil is always prevailing, using her feminine wiles to lure her willing victim into her trap. And like all good bad girls, she eventually meets her well-deserved end. Nina plays a girl you love to hate, but end up feeling sorry for in the end. Nina Mae wowed and amazed everyone with her performance. Her performance made people coined her "The Most Beautiful and Expressive actress of her Time" and call her "The Black Garbo" and "The Brown Clara Bow." You have to see this film before you see any other movie of her's.
1930 ~ They Learned About Women- This movie is dull but Nina Mae performance "Harlem Madness" which is only 3 mins long but it makes up for the other dull 92 mins. Nina Mae gives a breath-taking performance which she sings, dances, and scats along with Chorus Boys and Chorus Girls. Her performance wakes you right up, she basically steals the movie from the rest of the cast.
1931 ~ Safe In Hell- Nina Mae McKinney stars alongside with Dorothy MacKaill as a Hotel Clerk named Leonie who's sassy, who sings while she pours wine, and keeps the live-in roomers entertained, even comforting them when their depressed. Another movie which would have been not worth a look if it wasn't for Nina Mae.
1932 ~ Pie Pie BlackBird- starring Nina Mae McKinney, The Nicholas Brothers, backed with Eubie Blake and His Band. This is Nina Mae's most famous short. People have fallen in love with her through this short. She's set upon a piano singing and scatting "Everything That I've Got Belongs To You" while flirting, winking, and making love to the camera. Nina Mae stole the cameras again. Her big beautiful rolling flashing eyes and sexy body language while scatting, moaning and groaning the blues was mesmerizing. Her performance in the 10 min short was jaw-dropping. You can't resist her. They showed this short for a year in 1931 in movie theaters before the feature films to delight the audience in case the movie was boring, and if the movie was boring they showed it again after the movie so the audience wouldn't ask for their money back.
1935 ~ Reckless- An entertaining Jean Harlow and William Powell movie. Nina Mae has two singing parts- one behind Jean Harlow dubbed voice and sings a tearful tune which is short but moving, Nina Mae sings this with a lot of feeling, and she seems to be singing her life story "I Waste No Weeping, I Just Keep Hoping, For One Who's Hoping For Me." She looks beautiful, you can't hardly see her. But the stills taken from that movie shows more of her then the movie. Nina Mae had more parts in the role but they were cut because a Black woman being as beautiful and sexy as a white lady was too daring for the time.
1935 ~ Sanders of the River- Paul Robeson and Nina Mae McKinney were the first Blacks to star in European Films. They both gave a heart-felt performance in this film. Both adopting African accents. Nina Mae really shows she's an actress in this movie and is true to her art. She plays Lilongo. She sings a beautiful African lullaby. She showed that she was so much more then just another Harlem performer trying to act and she showed she could play serious roles instead of seductresses. Nina Mae showed she was capable of playing any role.
1936 ~ The Black Network- Another Vitaphone Musical Short. Not as great as the lst musical short. But Nina's parts entertains again keeping you in a trance. This short is 20 mins long. Nina Mae is gorgeous and sings a warming, song of the Black community "Half of me wants to be good". Also starring Amanda Randolph, Babe Wallace, The Nicholas Brothers and the ever so entertaining but forgotten Washboard Serenaders.
1938 ~ Gun Moll/Gang Smashers- This was the first Black Cast Production Film she was in outside of Hollywood. In the 1930s these films were popular amongst the Black community. Very rarely seen by Whites. Blacks got to show in these movies that they could act and proved it. Nina loss the part in "The Duke Is Tops" because she was sick in Australia so the part went to Lena Horne and made her a star but the company promised Nina this movie and this movie fit her talents to a T. This movie put Nina Mae on top again. Along with Hallelujah and Sanders of the River, this is also one of her best. She plays Laura Jackson an undercover policewoman posing as a nightclub entertainer to catch the gangsters who's been behind the killings in Harlem. All the while 2 men are falling for her, one is bad, one is also doing the same job she is, but she doesn't know it. She shows tremendous acting skills which she never got to display again in Hollywood after Hallelujah. She sings, and showcases her Band, which she is BandLeader. These Blacks Cast Films had great storylines and plots also showcases Black Entertainment. You also get to see how Black Life was back then. This movies were short but very jam-packed. Also starring some other Black Cast stars Monte Hawley, Lawrence Criner, Mantan Moreland, and Neva Peoples.
1939 ~ Straight To Heaven- Another Black Cast Production. Nina Mae is very laid back in this film. She plays a mother(Ida Williams) of an up-and-coming singing star son, Who has a very happy family life. But that happiness is stalled, while her husband is convicted of a crime he didn't commit, she knows that someone else had him set up, so she pretends to love a man just to get him caught. Nina Mae also sings and scats a tune. Also starring Jackie Ward, Jack Carter, James Baskett.
1939 ~ The Devil's Daughter- This was one of her last Black Cast Films. Every role she played in was successful but this one. Nina Mae is laid back and surprisingly comfortable in this suppose to be Thriller. The movie isn't the best but Nina does the best with the not bad, not good story. She plays Isabelle Walton who's a jealous sister who doesn't want her sister to have half of the plantation that was promised them by their father who just passed or have the man who's she in love with but he loves her sister. So she'll go to any extreme to send her sister running back home, not claiming the property or man, so she could have it. Not her best role due to slow, bad directing. But worth a look.
1940 ~ Swanee Showboat- A Soundie short which feature singing and dancing sequences. Nina Mae had a part. I'm sure it was good. But, sadly its said to be lost or very hard to find. Hopefully it'll show up.
1944 ~ Together Again- This one of the first of her many maid roles. But being Nina Mae, she also gave gave her all, even if she didn't have to say nothing or say even one word. She's always worth a look.
1944 ~ Dark Waters- This movie star Merle Oberon and Franchot Tone. Nina has a role, its better then the last maid role, she's not uncredited. She listed as part of the cast. She plays Florella. She has speaking part and has some scene times and believe me she makes the most of that time.
1945 ~ Power of the Whistler- Nina Mae plays another maid in this B movie. She only has a few lines. But she is worth a look in this somewhat boring film. Towards the end she gets to show her sense of humor and her comedic skills. You'll have to see it. I'm not telling.
1946 ~ Night Train to Memphis- Nina Mae plays a suppose to be maid role but she's more then a maid. Nina Mae is like a breath of spring. She provides the comic relief which this movie really needed. The person she gets to make fun is another Black who plays a servant role. They both are hilarious. They both brighten up this somewhat boring movie. Nina is always a sight to see. Even when she's not the star she steals the movie with her delightful presence.
1946 ~ Mantan Messes Up- Another musical Soundie. Nina Mae has a part. But this film is said to be lost or very hard to find. Reviews said this to be an entertaining soundie. Maybe it'll show up. Like "Swanee Showboat" there are posters of this film. But that's all. Others who have parts in this Soundie is Lena Horne, Monte Hawley, Neva Peoples, and last but not least Mantan Moreland.
1947 ~ Danger Street- Nina Mae plays maid Veronica. She has some scene time. Worth a look. She again gives the movie some sass. Star of the movie Jane Withers.
1949 ~ Pinky- One of Nina Mae's last hurrah. She plays Rozelia. She gives a dramatic, mouth-dropping performance. You can't forget her fight scene with Jeanne Crain who played Pinky. Rumor has it, Nina Mae was suppose to play Pinky's grandmother, which was played by Ethel Waters. This basically completed the film career of Nina Mae McKinney. In this movie you can really tell her acting talent. She's right on time with each word and move. Nina Mae started her film career wowing people and ended it wowing audiences. She had to be happy to leave Movie Land knowing she gave the best performances and carried some films just with a presence or with just a word.
1950 ~ Copper Canyon- A Hedy Lamarr film. Hedy Lamarr at the time was a has-been. Nina Mae has a quick scene, you'll almost miss it. She has a part where she's fixing Hedy Lamarr's dress and says something and leave. Two Legends both was considered the most beautiful women of Hollywood. But at that time forgotten by Hollywood. I guess one of the highlights of this film, is that, this was Nina Mae's first Hollywood movie that was filmed in color.
I will be adding other films that Nina Mae starred or appeared in. Manhattan Serenade- an MGM short also starring The Brox Sisters. Passing the Buck- Vitaphone short. St. Louis Gal- an independently produced Black short.