Sanders of the River (1935, Zoltan Korda)

The least well-restored Criterion movie I’ve seen, maybe because it’s the least-worthy, mainly included in the Paul Robeson set for historical reference. Even the movie’s own DVD extras call it “embarrassing.” But Jomo Kenyatta (future president of Kenya) and Robeson were behind it at the time, believing it would turn out much better. It seems semi-competently slapped together by today’s location-shoot standards, though it was the biggest-budget British film of its time.

Robeson hails his unimpressed white rulers:

Leslie Banks, evil hunter of The Most Dangerous Game, now reduced to pleasant englishman, is Sanders, the local colonial ruler, bringing peace to multiple formerly-embattled tribes. Sandy is against slavery, but also against African self-rule, acting the father to his “misguided children”, with second-in-command Lt. Tibbets, never realizing that names like Sandy and Tibbets diminish their authority. He sounds like Dr. Moreau saying things like “I am Sandy who gives you the law. I will punish with a great punishment all those who break the law.” A smiling Robeson is one of the tribe leaders, or at least its representative to the white powers.


All is going smoothly until Sandy comes down with malaria and leaves town for a moment and his replacement Ferguson proves not a strong-enough father-figure to keep his misguided children from fighting. Evil King Muffuletta kidnaps and kills Fergie, and intends to do the same to Robeson’s wife Lilongo (gorgeous Nina Mae McKinney, star of Hallelujah), sending Sandy scurrying back to Africa to make peace. The music is nice, anyway, and there are nude-breasted dancing women (because Africa).

King Muffeletta gets speared: