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West of Zanzibar (1954)


Main image of West of Zanzibar (1954)
35mm, 94 min, Technicolor
DirectorHarry Watt
Production CompanyEaling Studios
Produced byLeslie Norman
ScreenplayMax Catto
 Jack Whittingham
StoryHarry Watt
CinematographyPaul Beeson

Cast: Anthony Steel (Bob Payton); Sheila Sim (Mary Payton); Edric Connor (Ushingo); Orlando Martins (M'Kwongwi); William Simons (Tim Payton); Martin Benson (Dhofar)

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Game warden Bob Payton investigates a ring of ivory poachers who are corrupting a peaceful tribe.

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The only sequel from Ealing Studios, West of Zanzibar continued the African adventures of game warden Bob Payton, the hero of what was the most popular British film of 1951, Where No Vultures Fly. West of Zanzibar was designed to capitalise on its predecessor's success but the actual film, and its history with audiences, couldn't be more different.

Harry Watt, returning as director, managed to maintain the fun pace, beautiful cinematography and focus on wildlife that made the first film so popular, but West of Zanzibar has one key difference: its subject. It replaces the worthy concerns for animal welfare in Where No Vultures Fly with a more contentious humanitarian question - the displacement of rural African tribes and their participation in ivory poaching. But it completely fudges the answer.

The city where the film's displaced tribe - the Galana - settle brings economic problems, criminal temptation and tribal exploitation. As the tribe's young men descend into drink and poaching, their leader, Ushingo, blames his people's naivety about city life and berates those who judge the Galana savages. But West of Zanzibar pulls back from any more challenging political message. The Arab lawyer, Dhofar, lays responsibility for the degradation of Africa's people at the door of British colonial rule, but this position is undermined when Dhofar is himself exposed as a mastermind of the ivory poaching.

Thomas Spencer, writing in the Daily Worker, claimed, "the film's failure stems from its basically futile plea [for the colonialist] to be allowed to go on ruling Africa in the old way." His criticism summarises how the film has come to be seen. Despite favourable reviews and good audiences on its initial release, the film was banned by the Kenya Board of Film Censors in August 1954 as "prejudicial to good race relations in the colony". Watt was reportedly taken aback, but the Kenyan Board's decision made explicit the film's problematic depictions of racial politics. West of Zanzibar has since disappeared from public view, and remains one of the least known Ealing titles.

Dylan Cave

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Video Clips
1. Ushingo's plea (3:24)
2. Zanzibar City (2:33)
3. Dhofar (3:53)
Where No Vultures Fly (1951)
Norman, Leslie (1911-1993)
Watt, Harry (1906-1987)
Ealing Studios (1938-59)
British African Stories
The End of Empire