In this musical comedy, Paul Robeson stars as Joe, a Marseilles docker hired by a wealthy English couple to find their missing son. When Joe finds him, he learns he escaped of his own will,... See full summary »
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An insurance lawyer unhappy with his rate of company advancement becomes a middleman in deals to recover stolen property from the Mob, thus earning a nice living. But his actions attract police attention and set him up for a double-cross.
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It's sad that this sort of film simply could not have been made in Paul Robeson's home country at the time due to racism. Instead, Robeson went to the UK and made a few films--too few. I say this because he had a wonderful screen presence and his singing was gorgeous.
Robeson plays 'John Zinga'--a London dockworker descended from royalty back in Africa. Oddly, he lacks a British accent (while Robeson was a brilliant and multi-talented man, apparently a British accent was beyond him) and he has a weird sort of consciousness of his people and Africa within him. It goes far deeper than his interest in his cultural homeland--Robeson's character is fixated on the place and seems to have bits and pieces in the back of his mind about his homeland--though no one apparently ever told him about this--at least as far as he can remember. So, after becoming a huge singing star and learning more about the exact place in Africa where his forebears came from, he takes off for the place to get in touch with his roots.
The second portion of the film takes place an Zananga, Africa. There, Robeson is eventually recognized as a descendant of kings and brings culture, medicine and western civilization to these people--but it is a hard fight to get them to abandon their ineffective ways. It's nice that it's NOT a case of whites bringing this to these 'dark' people but a black man bringing this knowledge to them--making it seem a little less paternalistic. In many ways, this portion of the film seems like a call to other black men and women to return and contribute to their ancestral lands.
Overall, while the film might seem a bit old fashioned today, it really is a remarkable film in many ways. The most obvious is because of its unusual subject mater, but more important aspects should not be lost on the viewer. To have a mainstream film starring a strong and talented black man was very progressive for its day. And, seeing Robeson liked and respected by all as a person--even by his white co-workers. In many ways the film comes off as a bit overly ideal--absent is racism and in this film a good black man can achieve practically anything--a message that must have resonated in the black communities in the UK as well as back home in the States. A daring film and a great chance to see and hear an amazingly gifted man. For more on this, read his biography on IMDb--you'll see what I mean.
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