Colonials I

film 2 of 6

Stanley and Livingstone

Draft Review by Dean Duncan Jun 3, 2015

A great example of how complex and intelligent regular old films can be, apart from the canonized modernist or auteurist anomalies, they don’t make ones like these anymore, but those who despair of the fact as well as those who rejoice are missing important points: the good old days did not only mindlessly affirm some set of accepted verities, nor does the converse act of interrogation necessarily demand rejection; this starts, with the Indian section, as an apparent celebration of manifest destiny and the power of an American go-getter, but the amazing thing is that, after taking a brief dig at the fuddy-duddy British publisher (and more importantly, after poignantly painting Henry Travers’ colonial as a good man worn out in the good service of the Queen), Stanley’s American brashness turns out to be inadequate to the rigours of darkest Africa; in finding Livingston–a very touching scene–he finds the truer model, which would also make a revisionist shudder and smirk, yet in the sections portraying this Christian Soldier (pounded heavily by the leitmotivic score), we talk about the things that have given missionaries a bad name, by which frankness we end up recouping the entire calling, certainly, though the blacks are of course not so roundly drawn, Livingston as superbly essayed by Sir Cedric shows by word and action all the good and charitable things that the white man’s burden entailed, and shows very convincingly that genocide was not the only intent nor was it the single result of every European excursion; the Onward Christian Soldiers scene, where black cultural expression transforms and enriches the not so alien after all text, is thrilling, the intriguing Royal Geographic Society trial–an auteur expression, points out Jim D’Arc, from writer Lamar Trotti (cf. court scenes in Young Mr. Lincoln, Brigham Young)–is effective melodrama that may also have something to do with Nazi intolerances, and almost unnoticed is the gentle sub-plot of Stanley’s romantic devotion which doesn’t end in consummation after all (maybe his subsequent too idealized explorations are merely external expressions of sexual frustration!), but which refreshingly shows mature people who regard each other highly being restrained and honourable instead of indulging in today’s tired knee-jerk adulteries, and to demonstrate that they’re not so naive, the two also share one of the more charged, more sad screen kisses in memory, cf. Ambersons, of course