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Sanders of the River

UK 1935
produced by
Alexander Korda for London Film Productions
directed by Zoltan Korda
starring Paul Robeson, Leslie Banks, Nina Mae McKinney, Martin Walker, Robert Cochran, Richard Grey, Tony Wane, Marqués De Portago, Eric Maturin, Allan Jeayes, Charles Carson, Luao, Kilongalonga, Oboja, Bertrand Frazer, Beresford Gale, Jomo Kenyatta, Orlando Martins, Anthony Papafio, James Solomon, John Thomas, Deara Williams, Joe Cozier
screenplay by Lajos Biró, Jeffrey Dell, based on the story by Edgar Wallace, additional dialogue by Arthur Wimperis, music by Mischa Spoliansky

Commissioner Sanders

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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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.

That 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.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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On the same day
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WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

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directed by
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written by
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