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Men of Two Worlds (1946)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Men of Two Worlds (1946)
35mm, Technicolor, 109 mins
DirectorThorold Dickinson
Production CompanyTwo Cities Films
ScreenplayJoyce Cary
Original authorE. Arnot Robertson
PhotographyDesmond Dickinson
MusicArthur Bliss

Eric Portman (District Commissioner); Phyllis Calvert (Dr. Catherine Munro); Robert Adams (Kisenga); Orlando Martins (Magole); Eseza Makumbe (Saburi); Cathleen Nesbitt (Mrs Upjohn)

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An African music student returns home and has to defeat the witch doctor who dominates his tribe and take them to healthier land.

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Audiences of the 1940s were familiar with stories set in Africa. Novelists like Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling and Joyce Cary had for years fed a public appetite for adventure stories set in the colonies, and filmmakers on both sides of the Atlantic produced feature films that owed more to colonial fantasy and cultural stereotyping than any understanding of Africa or African people.

Men of Two Worlds was scripted by Joyce Cary, who, like Haggard, had spent a lot of time in the former colonies as a civil servant. Although most Britons of the 1930s were proud of the Empire, by the end of the war the tensions were increasingly visible. This is illustrated in the argument between the District Commissioner (Eric Portman) and Mrs Upjohn (Cathleen Nesbitt). Upjohn regards the African native as a primitive "closer to the soul of things", for whom education is a danger. Our civilisation, she declares, is "wretched" and no model for the African to adopt. The intelligent, hardworking Commissioner disagrees.

Robert Adams, who plays Kisenga, was already a screen star, having appeared in two films with Paul Robeson, Song of Freedom (d. J. Elder Wills, 1936) and King Solomon's Mines (d. Robert Stevenson, 1937), and on television in Eugene O'Neill's All God's Chillun Got Wings with Pauline Henriques (BBC, tx. 16/9/46) and Emperor Jones (BBC, tx. 11/5/1938). In 1947 he made television history as the Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice (BBC), the first black actor to play a Shakespearean role on British television.

The film is a creditable effort to tell an African story from the point of view of an African. The story only makes sense if we identify with Kisenga's dilemmas. Only he can resolve a situation in which the African and the European world views are at loggerheads, and he is prepared to give up his life in the struggle.

The film gives us unusually authentic-seeming pictures of village life and ritual, and invests the people with a certain dignity and sensibility, even if ultimately they prefer superstition and fear to science. The photography is slow-moving and beautifully composed; African faces appear on screen distinct with emotion and individuality.

Phyllis Calvert, famous for playing nice girls in Gainsborough melodramas, is cast against type as a feisty, chain-smoking lady doctor.

Ann Ogidi

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Video Clips
1. Kisenga's return (1:45)
2. Ancient rites (2:32)
3. Modern remedies (2:32)
4. Kisenga's challenge (2:02)
5. Mrs Upjohn (3:07)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Bliss, Sir Arthur (1891-1975)
Calvert, Phyllis (1915-2002)
Day, Tilly (1903-1994)
Del Giudice, Filippo (1892-1962)
Dickinson, Desmond (1903-1986)
Dickinson, Thorold (1903-1984)
Kalmus, Natalie (1887-1965)
Portman, Eric (1903-1969)
Two Cities Films
British African Stories
The End of Empire