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British District Officer in Nigeria in the 1930's rules his area strictly but justly, and struggles with gun-runners and slavers with the aid of a loyal native chief. Written by
Michael Crew <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Viewed today, 74 years after the film came out Sanders Of The River is a paradoxical film with the good and bad of British colonial attitudes of the 19th century. It's based on the first novel by Edgar Wallace, prolific British author who spent much time in Africa during the latter 19th and early 20th century.
Sanders played by Leslie Banks is the local administrator of an area of what is now Nigeria and a man who is confidently shouldering the white man's burden as he saw it. Nevertheless he's probably the best representative of his type in the area, someone the British see as the best in themselves.
He's taken the trouble to study the languages and cultures of the various tribes in his area and mixes in the local politics judiciously and fairly. When one of the tribal kings, Tony Wane, starts resorting to the slave trade which the British fought vigorously to suppress, Banks comes up with his own instrument of enforcement.
His instrument is rival king, Paul Robeson of a different tribe and on that the plot of Sanders Of The River turns.
Robeson was over in the United Kingdom at the time because he could not get the kind of film roles he wanted in the USA with America hung up on stereotypical blacks. Though the film is a salute to the judiciousness and fairness of British colonial role, Robeson took the part because I believe it gave him a chance to show the real Africa. There is no way America was ever going to make this kind of film. After MGM's near disaster with Trader Horn, American companies shied from location shooting until there until The African Queen and King Solomon's Mines.
Though taking place in the Nigeria area, the film was shot on location in the Kenya colony and we learned that the first Kenyan president, Jomo Kenyatta actually was an extra in this film. Robeson gets a chance to sing a couple of songs written by Mischa Spoliansky and Arthur Winder, but are as good in the black idiom as Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. No way Paul Robeson would have sung them if they weren't.
Robeson is joined in the vocal department by Nina Mae McKinney who scored big in King Vidor's Hallelujah, but was then unable to find decent roles for a beautiful black singer. That would wait until Lena Horne came on the scene and not altogether satisfactorily done there. She plays Robeson's wife and mother of his child and her capture by the rival king sets off a potentially nasty blood bath.
Sanders Of The River though incredibly dated should be seen quite frankly because of that. Robeson's singing voice is at its best here and this is a picture of Africa you won't get in Tarzan films.
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