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Sammy Davis Jr.
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
At about 18 minutes into the movie, the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (AKA Wemoweh and Mbube) is sung behind the dialogue. Its use is possibly the earliest mass release version ever of the song, predating The Weaver's release of Wemoweh by at least a year. See more »
A sincere, but also very somber, glimpse of segregated South Africa, circa 1950. Reverend Kumalo (Lee) travels from rural home to Johannesburg to search for missing son. What he finds instead is degradation, both economic and moral, plus immense heartache.
That train trip through an industrial belt is riveting as we glimpse the harsh conditions along the way. Ditto, the shantytown slums of the city that Kumalo and Msimangu (Poitier) must search through. To me, these are the film's highlights since they're a long way from any movie lot. Then too, I don't recall seeing documentary footage from SA like this before. Note also, that the real thing is photographed not only on the streets but inside the shanties, as well. No constructed sets here. In my book, the Korda's should be saluted for their efforts to overcome what must have been difficult conditions to work under.
It's a very grim storyline, heavy on the notion of redemption, both personal (Kumalo's son) and societal (apartheid). Fortunately, the screenplay weaves these two threads together very effectively. It's also worth noting that hints at racial reconciliation revolve around religious themes instead of the more controversial political kind. The latter would probably have been impossible to do. Nonetheless, Kumalo's climb up the hill at movie's end is powerfully symbolic of the promise of a new day.
Definitely a must-see for serious movie fans.
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