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Old Bones of the River (1938)

 -  Comedy  -  December 1938 (UK)
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 141 users  
Reviews: 2 user | 2 critic

In this British comedy, a professor travels up river in Africa to open schools. But his new pupils are not receptive and when the commander of the local base succumbs to malaria, he takes ... See full summary »


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Title: Old Bones of the River (1938)

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Complete credited cast:
Will Hay ...
Prof. Benjamin Tibbetts
Moore Marriott ...
Graham Moffatt ...
Robert Adams ...
Jack London ...
Wyndham Goldie ...
Jack Livesey ...
Western Brothers ...
The Voice of Reproach (as The Western Brothers)


In this British comedy, a professor travels up river in Africa to open schools. But his new pupils are not receptive and when the commander of the local base succumbs to malaria, he takes on his duties too. Aided by the crew of the boat he arrived on he starts collecting taxes from the locals! Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




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Release Date:

December 1938 (UK)  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(British Acoustic)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Spoofs Sanders of the River (1935) See more »


Native Marching Song
Arranged by Louis Levy
See more »

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User Reviews

Off colour but still on target
4 May 2008 | by (Derby, UK) – See all my reviews

I've got this in my records as being first broadcast on UK TV on 8th April 1985, and yet I don't think it was a lost film or that pc prejudices had held it up until then. I was slightly surprised at the content of the film and that the BBC showed it even then, and yet it still seems to appear regularly. The problems are that 1/ it isn't the 1930's anymore, with the British Empire still steaming ahead and 2/ imho the comic genius of Will Hay and the incomparable trio he made with Moore Marriott and Graham Moffat would have been better served by sticking them in an ordinary job complete with ridiculous situations back in Blighty. Why not have had them simply as canal boat operators and see where the plot took them instead of borrowing from Edgar Wallace?

The scene is set with the opening caption In Darkest Africa – Teaching the black man to play the white man, with the Western Brothers exhorting us all to Play The Game. Seedy quasi-missionary schoolmaster Hay arrives at a British outpost to help civilise the natives, unbeknownst to him bringing with him guns and booze (the white man's burden) that a returning educated native M'Bapi is smuggling in with which to foment trouble. His brother, chief Bosambo the Boot-Licker has a rather disparaging opinion of him! Hay & Co. get lumbered into collecting the native taxes, which lead to many hilarious scenes and classic quips (a lot centring on Hay's views of Harbottle's cleanliness), and eventually friction and war. Favourite bits: the sight of Jerry and Albert snuggled up and snoozing in the top bunk as a strong smell of goats permeates the cabin to wake up Hay below; the suspicions raised as to whether Hay had fathered a black baby; the expert repartee that makes this ultimately so worthwhile, unfortunately amidst many gags that would be considered either racist or racially patronising in todays perfect world.

Not quite a classic as were so many of Hay's films, but for fans still sparkling throughout. If you're not a fan or are too serious you may have a problem with this one!

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