The drums tell the tale, "there is no law on the river," a Hungarian view of the British Empire. "The keepers of the King’s peace" out in Africa are Zoltan Korda’s tributaries, one such is the commissioner (Leslie Banks) who runs the Nigerian outpost like a scolding schoolmaster, smoking pipe and all. (The tribal leaders line up for palaver and bow down sardonically: "We all love one another now because, if we did not, your lordship would punish us very cruelly.") Complications arise from the leonine jungle tyrant (Tony Wane), greedy European gunrunners throw the truce of the land into disarray—a montage of spooked giraffes and swooping vultures announces the incoming frenzy. In the middle of all this, a mini-Kipling account of the sly ex-convict (Paul Robeson) who grows into his role as a grand chief (cf. Lloyd's If I Were King). Traces of what originated as a Hitckcock project are felt in the malaria bout aboard the paddle steamer, though Korda's location shooting bears its own adventurer's wonderment: Mounted on a descending biplane, the camera contemplates the vastness of a savanna dotted by charging rhinos and antelopes. And then there's Robeson's unimpeachable majesty, attired in bangles and leopard loincloth and effortlessly outclassing the patronizing clods in pith helmets. (When he sings "The Canoe Song," he just about turns the colonialist lyrics into a pantheistic hymn: "The current swings, the water sings, a river rhyme...") Endfield in Zulu has the American vantage, Beresford in Mister Johnson the tepid satire. With Nina Mae McKinney. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce