Sanders (Leslie Banks), commissioner of a district of Nigeria, does his
best to keep the region entrusted to him by the British crown peaceful,
often aided by Bosambo (Paul Robeson), originally a conman who had proven
himself to be the perfect chieftain of one of the biggest tribes around.
However, in their effort to keep the region peaceful, Sanders and Bosambo
have offended King Mofolaba (Tony Wane), who only waits for an opportunity
to avenge himself ... and this opportunity comes when Sanders leaves
Nigeria for London to marry and Farini (Marqués de Portago), a ruthless
armsdealer, spreads the news that Sanders has died, just to improve his
own business. Mofolaba is quick to capture and kill Sanders' replacement
(MArtin Walker), then he has Bosambo's wife (Nina Mae McKinney) kidnapped,
just to lure Bosambo into a trap - a trap Bosambo promptly falls for, and
before you know it it looks as if both his death and that of his wife are
only moments away - when Sanders, who has of course kept up to date with
all the occurences and postponed his journey to London, arrives with a
small battalion and machineguns, and after he has freed Bosambo, Bosambo
kills Mofolaba to save Sanders' life ... and as a thank you he is made
king of Mofolaba's tribe.
In a way, Sanders of the River
is an impressive film, it was partly shot in Africa, and features tribal
music and many a tribal dance especially filmed for the movie. It is said
that top-billed Paul Robeson, a black actor/singer/athlete who all of his
life fought for equality, accepted the role in the film because it was
among the first to present his black roots to a mainstream audience. Much
to his dismay though, the film didn't turn out the way he imagined:
Despite featuring an abundance of African footage, the film has not turned
out to be a celebration of African culture but rather a celebration of
imperialism and colonial rule in which the black race is firmly put into
place as servile (and slightly naive) creatures in need of white rule -
something that sits uncomfortably not only with today's audience.
all said, besides being a total ideological failure, is Sanders of the
River a good film?
In short, the answer is no, the African footage
is just fine and nicely shot, but more often than not it interrupts the
plot as such rather than contributing to it, and the musical interludes by
Robeson and Nina Mae McKinney slow the story further down, a story that is
seriously lacking in the suspense and action department, trying much more
to bring its message about British superiority over the African continent
across than telling a stringent narrative.
In all, the film might be of
(film-)historical interest as a ideologically misguided piece of 1930's
cinema, but not more.