American version of Tamango poster
|Directed by||John Berry|
|Written by||John Berry
Georges Neveux (dialogue)
|Music by||Joseph Kosma|
|Edited by||Roger Dwyre|
|Distributed by||CEI Incom|
|Release dates||January 24, 1958 (France)
September 16, 1959 (official United States release date)
|Running time||98 minutes|
Tamango is a 1958 French/Italian film directed by John Berry, a black-listed American director who exiled himself to Europe. Dorothy Dandridge and Curd Jürgens (billed as: Curt Jurgens) star in the film with co-stars Alex Cressan and Jean Servais. Based on the short story by Prosper Mérimée first published in 1829, the film is about a slave ship on its crossing from Africa to Cuba, the various people it carries and the slaves' rebellion while on board.
Captain Reiker (Curd Jürgens), a Dutch sea captain, sets off on what he intends to be his last slave-ship voyage. After capturing slaves with the complicity of an African chief (Habib Benglia), he then starts his voyage for Cuba. Along with the slaves below-deck, the passengers include his mistress, the slave Aiché (Dorothy Dandridge), and the ship's doctor, Doctor Corot (Jean Servais). Tamango (Alex Cressan), one of the captured men, plans a revolt and tries to persuade Aiché to join him and the other slaves. When the captured slaves do rebel, Tamango manages to hold Aiché hostage. A deadlock between the two sides then develops and Captain Renker states he will fire a cannon into the ships' hold and kill all the slaves unless they give up. Aiché is given a chance to leave by Tamango but after looking up the ladder that leads out of the hold (and towards life), chooses to stay with her fellow slaves. The captain makes good on his threat and shoots the cannon into the hold, literally silencing the slaves' songs.
The film's director, John Berry (who had worked with Orson Welles during the 1940s), had been caught up in the Communist scare of the early 1950s, fleeing the United States to avoid being called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1950 he directed the documentary The Hollywood Ten, about the Hollywood professionals who had refused to cooperate with HUAC in 1947 and this movie is what got him in trouble with Congress when one of its subjects, Edward Dmytryk, then decided to testify in 1951.
In a strange twist of fate, Edward Dmytryk (the man who had actually gotten Berry the documentary job) was also the agent of his blacklisting. In his first appearance before HUAC, Dmytryk hadn't testified and was imprisoned for a year for contempt of Congress. Upon his release, he worked in Europe for a few years and, returning to America in 1951, went before the Committee and named names, including John Berry.
The film was controversial in different parts of the world. Even though the project was filmed in the French city Nice, France banned Tamango in its West African colonies "for fear it would cause dissent among the natives". The film was released in 1959 in New York City, but didn't receive nationwide distribution until 1962. The United States government had banned Tamango because it broke the race-mixing (or "miscegenation") section of the Hays Code with the interracial love scenes between Dorothy Dandridge and Curd Jürgens.
Dorothy Dandridge as Aiché, Reiker's mistress
Curd Jürgens as Captain John Reiker
Jean Servais as Doctor Corot
Alex Cressan as Tamango
Roger Hanin as 1st Mate Bebe
Guy Mairesse as Werner
Clément Harari as Cook
Doudou Babet as Chadi
Habib Benglia as Le chef noir
Pierre Rosso as the diving sailor
- Christopher L. Miller (2008). The French Atlantic triangle: literature and culture of the slave trade. Duke University Press. p. 179. Retrieved February 7, 2011.
- Miller, page 180
- Susan Hayward (2010). French Costume Drama of the 1950s: Fashioning Politics in Film. Intellect Books. pp. 209–210, 212–215. Retrieved February 7, 2011.
- Miller, pages 224, 231, 233
- Hayward, page 210
- "Tamango". Chicago Reader. Retrieved February 7, 2011.
- "Edward Dmytryk Biography". New York Times (All Movie Guide). Retrieved February 7, 2011.
- Miller, page 224
- Hayward, page 211
- Miller, page 226
- Hayward, page 211
- Release Dates
- Hayward, page 210