A bronzed and Brylcreemed Victor Mature plays Ken Duffield, an American soldier turned white hunter, in this turgid colonial romance that also stars a benzedrine-thin Janet Leigh as a former showgirl on holiday with her pompous billionaire fiancé.
When the dreaded Mau-Mau horribly butcher his wife and son with the aid of one of his Kikuyu “house boys,” Jeroge (Bermuda-born actor Earl Cameron), Ken vows to avenge them. He escorts Linda Latham (Leigh) and the increasingly erratic and demanding Sir Vincent Brampton on safari, intending to use the hunting expedition to locate his nemesis and kill as many Mau-Mau as possible.
Also features Zanzibari child actor Juma as Odongo, a tagalong scamp prone to bouts of loud, forced laughter.
There are a number of British Pathé newsreels about the Mau Mau uprising available online and they’re worth screening in part because they evince clear parallels with our own moment.
It’s strange to see Dirk Bogarde– generally more well-known for the films he did with Harold Pinter and Joseph Losey or even The Night Porter— in this late imperial romance. Though there’s room here for a soft liberal critique of British colonialism in Africa– Bogarde’s Alan Howard is poisoned by his hatred of all black Kenyans in the aftermath of his brother’s murder by the Mau-Mau– the film argues for a kind of enlightened paternalism. There were a whole string of films devoted to this version of the Empire as an ultimately beneficent if sporadically violent enterprise (Zulu, Something of Value, etc.) during the era of decolonization.
Most of these images were made by George Rodger, who also documented the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. What would they look like if they were made by Black Kenyans?
That night we were divided into several groups. Then we went into the village and we started to attack.
Did you kill anybody?
During the fight, you know, I can’t tell you whether I killed anybody, but I certainly did attack. At the time there was no peace, it was just fighting. One bullet passed close to me. I shot twelve bullets. I was wounded three times. One here on my leg… One in my side… And one bullet passed this way… Another one just missed my head.
Was there no other way to get your freedom other than killing?
There was no other way. We had to fight to show we didn’t want to be colonized. There was nothing else we could have done.
What do you think about the British now?
I feel we are children of the same mother. Today we shook hands… And you are white! At the time we could not even touch each other.
What do you think about the time that the British were here in Kenya as the colonial government?
Apart from ruling us with an iron fist they helped develop this country.
Would the country have been better if they hadn’t been here?
At the time there was no school. I’ve never been to a class in my life. But now even young girls are in school.
You’ll be shocked to know that SFSU doesn’t have any substantial documentaries about the so-called Mau-Mau Uprising. Here are two films that look fairly useful. The first, from 1973, is the second episode of a series called Black Man’s Land. The second– Kenya: White Terror– is based in part on Caroline Elkins’s Imperial Reckoning, which documented British torture of Land and Freedom Army fighters.
Mau Mau Crisis: