Mamba (1930)

April 7th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Albert S Rogell | US drama 78’

So few films in two-colour Technicolor survive in anything like decent prints that the continued existence of ‘Mamba’ after over ninety years gives us even greater cause to be thankful, especially given it’s unlikely provenance as a production of Poverty Row outfit Tiffany and the fact that it’s a preCode melodrama in the vein of Somerset Maugham rather than just another musical.

Beginning as did so many early talkies with a sweeping and elaborate tracking shot, the film is so remarkable one can only express surprise at the obscurity in which director Albert Rogell now languishes; his subsequent career career largely confined to ‘B’s before he finally disappeared into television.

The condescending attitude to Africans will probably offend modern sensibilities, but the real villain of the piece is unambiguously shown to be Jean Hersholt – described by one member of the cast as “two-legged pig – whose wealth has justifiably failed to bring him the respect he feels that he deserves from the other colonials, his brusque lack of concern for the wellbeing of the native population prompting one to opine that “This dog Bolte consistently breaks down the very thing we try to teach our natives: respect for the white man”.

Also very preCode is the way that the evident horror of Hersholt’s mail-order bride Eleanor Boardman at the prospect of him putting his clammy paws all over her is so vividly conveyed. @RichardChatten


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