In the back country of South Africa, black minister Stephen Kumalo (Canada Lee) journeys to the city to search for his missing son, only to find his people living in squalor and his son a ... See full summary »
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Gerald S. O'Loughlin
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In the back country of South Africa, black minister Stephen Kumalo (Canada Lee) journeys to the city to search for his missing son, only to find his people living in squalor and his son a criminal. Reverend Misimangu (Sidney Poitier) is a young South African clergyman who helps find his missing son-turned-thief and sister-turned-prostitute in the slums of Johannesburg. Written by
There seems little point in remaking proved masterpieces of cinema. Generally they are given short shrift by critics and moviegoers with examples such as a new "Stagecoach" and "Psycho" quickly assigned to oblivion while their originals continue to give endless pleasure either as DVDs or TV reshowings. The 1995 version of "Cry, the Beloved Country" deserved a similar fate and was only saved I would imagine because the original version of Alan Paton's South African novel directed by Vincent Korda in 1951 is so little known today. I regard this neglect and the fact that it was felt that a "new" version was needed as one of cinema's greatest tragedies, for the original was beyond doubt, in my opinion, one of the half dozen greatest films ever to have emerged from a British studio. I ran the two versions again recently. By the end of the exercise I vowed never again to see the "new" version as in every sense it is the inferior of the two. I would cite the treatments of one small scene to make the point, the incredibly moving moment in the novel when the news is broken to the white landowner on his farm of the murder of his only son by a group of black youth during the course of a burglary of his home in Johannesburg. Korda's treatment of the scene takes approximately a third of the time of the equivalent in the new Darrell Roodt version. It is impressively understated with the father quietly having to sit down to take in the dreadful news he has been brought. Richard Harris in the same part cannot match Charles Carson's tremendous dignity, exteriorising his grief in a far more theatrical way. It is the difference between tragedy and melodrama. Korda's monochrome "Cry, the Beloved Country" is almost documentary in style. The voice-over reading of Paton's opening paragraph is set against shots of the landscape it describes. The black Minister's train journey to the big city to find his fallen sister is punctuated by landscapes becoming more and more blighted by the rape of industry. Once there he embarks on a sad pilgrimage of shantytowns photographed with all the mastery of the postwar Italian neo-realists. That Korda's version of Paton's bleak tale is on the same level of artistic integrity and achievement as works such as "Bicycle Thieves" and "Germany Year Zero" is a measure of how highly I rate it. The use of music is masterly: indigenous a cappella choruses for the credits then nothing for the first third of the film. Then almost imperceptibly Raymond Gallois-Montbrun's orchestral score creeps in to meditate on some of the quieter scenes reaching a sort of apotheosis reminiscent of the conclusion of Berg's Violin Concerto by adopting the form of a chorale prelude for the final scene where the Minister climbs a hilltop to witness the dawn of a new day at the time his son is being executed. Shortly before he has passed the doubly bereaved white farmer to whom he has sent flowers on learning of his wife's death. The moment of reconcilliation between the two men is marked by the farmer's simple acknowledgement "Your flowers were of great beauty". There are few moments in cinema as moving as this.
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