(director/writer: John Berry; screenwriters: Georges Neveux/Lee Gold/Tamara Hovey/adapted from Prosper Merime’s Tamango; cinematographer: Edmond Sechan; editor:Roger Dwyre; music: Joseph Kosma; cast: Dorothy Dandridge (Aiche), Curt Jurgens(Captain Reinker), Alex Cressan (Tamango), Jean Servais(Doctor Corot), Roger Hanin (Bebe–First Mate), Guy Marisse (Werner, Crazy Sailor), Clement Harari(Cook), Julien Verdier (Fernando), Douta Seck (slave warrior), Bouraima Damiz (slave bride), Habib Benglia (black chief), Bashir Tour (Zaru), Doudou Babet (Chadi), Pierre Rosso (diving sailor); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Sig Shore/Marcello Danon/Roland Gerard/René Gaston; Cyclops; 1958-France-in English)
“A seething drama about the evils of slavery.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The self-exiled blacklisted American director from the 1950s John Berry (“Claudine”/”Boesman and Lena“), living in France, helms from there a seething drama about the evils of slavery. It’s a slave revolt film that was ahead of its times and thereby made little noise upon its release. Writers Berry, Georges Neveux, Lee Gold and Tamara Hovey adapt it from the 19th century French author Prosper Merime’ 1829 novella–he also wrote Carmen.
All the action is set on the Dutch slave ship, Esperanza, taking its black cargo, bought from an African chief in Guinea, in 1820, across the Atlantic Ocean to Havana, Cuba, for sale in a slave auction. The stern Dutch Captain Reinker (Curt Jurgens, German actor) is only interested in getting the black cargo to market so they can be sold for profit. The Captain’s mistress is the sultry Aiche (Dorothy Dandridge), who was a former mixed-race slave. Doctor Corot (Jean Servais) is the ship’s cynical physician who is ordered to keep the prisoners healthy so they are in good condition from the voyage to be sold for a high price. Corot hates his job. He’s attracted to Aiche, who shows little interest in him. The titled character is Tamango (Alex Cressan, in his only screen appearance). He’s a tribal warrior, who attempts to kill the captain. When rebuffed, he vows to be never sold as a slave and during the voyage organizes a revolt that has the blacks choose death over living as slaves. In the end, even Aiche sides with Tamango and her people, and chooses death over slavery. It’s a politically daring film for the time, a predecessor to the Black Power movement.
Though rarely seen, the neglected film has become a cult classic and is worth seeking out.
REVIEWED ON 7/28/2018 GRADE: B+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/