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Cry, The Beloved Country (1952)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Cry, The Beloved Country (1952)
35mm, black and white, 103 mins
DirectorZoltan Korda
Production CompaniesLondon Film Productions
 British Lion
ProducerZoltan Korda
ScreenplayAlan Paton
PhotographyRobert Krasker
MusicR. Gallois Montbrun

Cast: Canada Lee (Stephen Kumalo); Sidney Poitier (Rev. Msimangu); Charles Carson (James Jarvis); Joyce Carey (Mrs. Jarvis)

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Searching for his only son in Johannesburg, Reverend Stephen Kumalo finds that he is to be executed for killing a white farmer's only son, an advocate of the natives' cause. The two fathers, neighbours in Natal, learn to understand their sons, each other and the plight of their country.

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Cry, the Beloved Country (1952) was directed by Zoltan Korda and co-produced with Alan Paton. Paton's source novel, written in 1946, appeared to international acclaim in 1948, the year Apartheid was instituted in South Africa. (A musical adapation, Lost in the Stars, music by Kurt Weill, was staged by Rouben Mamoulian on Broadway in 1949.) In this, his penultimate film - financed by Alexander Korda - Zoltan was able to focus his passion for Africa and Africans. However, his satisfaction with the film, which received numerous awards, was marred by the release in the USA of a watered-down version as African Fury.

Unusually for films made in English by non-Africans, the film spurns stereotypes and exoticism. The 'beloved' country's landscape is treated in relation to its people. Shot on location in sombre neo-realistic black and white by Robert Krasker, the foregrounding of the dispossession from the land is highlighted by Zulu a cappella voices; the Black hero's inner and outer journey begins with shots from a train, which reveal the social contours. Canada Lee, the great American theatre and film actor, indicted by McCarthyism, expresses inner struggle, meekness, dignity and hurt. A young Sidney Poitier shines with anger and compassion. Alan Paton injects the social worker and the writings of the murdered reformer with his own experience as a progressive head of a Reformatory. Lionel Ngakane, who plays Absalom, was also an (uncredited) assistant director.

In Lionel Rogosin's docudrama Come Back, Africa (US, 1959), the film is criticised for its paternalist liberalism. The film's only militant, John Kumalo (Edric Connor), is a notable orator but a 'bad man', and the film discards the novel's militant activity. Yet Paton's liberalism espoused multiracialism, and the film's personal tragedies stem from the denial of land rights to the Black majority.

The film ends - as Reverend Kumalo faces the dawn on the day of his son's execution - with the words: "When that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret." The film came out in 1952, the year of the infamous Pass Laws. Darrell Roodt, a South African filmmaker, described his 1995 remake as imbued with the "pain of remembrance". Zoltan Korda's film, which posits fear as the problem and proposes reconciliation based on understanding and compassion, proves a powerful reminder in tune with the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Ilona Halberstadt

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Video Clips
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Carey, Joyce (1898-1993)
Korda, Zoltán (1895-1961)
Krasker, Robert (1913-1981)
Ngakane, Lionel (1928-2003)
British African Stories
Korda and Empire
The End of Empire