Tamango (1957)



Director:     John Berry.

Starring:     Dorothy Dandridge (Aich, Reiker's mistress),  Curd Jrgens (Captain John Reiker),  Jean Servais (Doctor Corot),  Alex Cressan (Tamango),  Roger Hanin (1st Mate Bebe),  Guy Mairesse (Werner),  Clment Harari (Cook). 

an African slave on a Dutch slave ship heading to Cuba revolts, capturing the captain's mistress, thereby forcing a showdown


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

The Coast of Guinea, 1820.  The slave trade is going strong.  The name of the ship is the Esperanza (Spanish for Hope).  The Captain of the ship is John Reiker.  He has to keep a watch out for warships because he doesn't want his ship inspected.  The slaves are brought out to the ship on a raft.  They then climb up the rope ladders to board the ship.  The Captain is notified that the Chief doesn't think he has been paid enough for the slaves.  The Captain talks with the Chief and gives him more rum and 20 rifles.  

Shackles are put on the slaves.  The Captain tells his men not to put them on too tight.  One of the slaves, Tomango, jumps the Captain, but the slave is beaten down.  A ship comes around the rocks.  It carries a French flag.  The Captain has a British Union Jack run up.  The other ship bears down on the slave ship.  All blacks have been hurriedly put below deck.  The anchor is hoisted and then the main sail.  The French ship fires on the Esperanza, but they are able to pull away from the French ship. 

Below deck the slaves are packed closely together.  Tamango, who tried to kill the Captain, is still very angry.  He says that they will never make him a slave.  A compatriot tells him that there are only six warriors below deck.  Tamango says that there is still time.  They will make the other men warriors too instead of farmers and fishermen. 

Someone comes to tell the Captain that some of the blacks are refusing to eat.   They are brought onto the top deck and then lashed. Doctor Corot asks Aich, the mulatto mistress to the captain, what she feels when she sees the blacks tied up as they are.  After all, Aich is a slave too, even if she has white in her blood and is light-skinned.  She responds that she was sold a long time ago when she was just a child.  Aich tells the doctor that she doesn't remember.  The Doctor would like to have sex with her, but she won't cooperate. 

The Captain tells the hunger strikers that he takes care of the slaves.  No one is punished unless he deserves it.  He gets some of the black men to eat, but Tamango refuses.  Then the man next to Tamango refuses to eat.  The Captain has this second man thrown into the ocean. 

Aich brings water to Tamango, who wants to know all about her.  She encourages him to take the easy way and cooperate with the master.  Tamango calls her white man's trash.  She retorts that he's not even worth a bag of glass beads, so "don't put on any airs with me!"  He spits in her face.  She says:  "You'll learn."  The black women tell Aich that Tamango is so proud because he's a lion hunter.  One of the women was supposed to have married one of the men on the boat, but now she can't even talk to him.  Aich tells the woman that she knows how she feels, because something even worse happened to her with a boy she loved.  He was hanged by the whites.

At night the Captain returns to his cabin very tired.  He wants to know what's bothering Aich, but she won't tell him.  He kisses her and with a little more persuasion she responds in kind.

Below deck Tamango tells the others that the white men have a knife with teeth on it that can cut through metal.  They keep it in a long box next to the kitchen.  The men plot out how they might get their hands on the hacksaw.  The next day one of the plotters makes a pretend attempt to escape.  A smaller man sneaks away from everyone to hide himself somewhere where he won't be found.  At night the man sneaks over to the kitchen, but he too is captured.  In the morning the blacks see the man hanging from a rope above their heads. Tamango and his second in command take the body down.  Tamango asks the dead man to forgive him.  Quite a few of the blacks see Tamango as dangerous for their future and they threaten to kill him.  Luckily, they relent. 

The Captain says he will make Tamango a coachman.  He will also give him a new name.  Tamango is acting now like an Uncle Tom, bowing and scraping.  Aich tells him that he may be able to fool the white men, but he can't fool her.  Tamango tells her to leave him alone.  She replies that she can't until she pays what she owes him.  Tamango says she doesn't owe him anything, but she says she does.  She spits in his face.  Now they are even, she says. 

Tamango is still trying to get his hands on the hacksaw.  He picks it up off the deck.  Aich sees him and tells him to put it back or he'll get everyone killed. Tamango grabs her arm and tells her that she is not going to tell.  She says no.  The Doctor follows Aich to the Captain's room.  He still wants to have sex with her and she still refuses to go along.  So he tells her that the Captain is going to marry and go to Rotterdam to live.  To prove it, he shows her all the presents the Captain has been buying for his future bride in every port of call.    

When the Captain returns she confronts him about all the gifts he bought for someone else.   She is very worried that he is going to sell her and she says some things critical of the Captain.  He gets angry and tells her that from now on, she will sleep with the slaves.    

One of the white men finds the hacksaw and starts to lash the slaves.  Tamango grabs him from behind, puts the chains of his shackles around his neck and strangles him to death.  Then they hide the body.  They communicate with the women through the walls by drumming on the wood.  The black men have killed a white man.   Aich tells one of the women to signal to the men to find the loose boards in the floor, pull them up and put the dead body under the floor.  The woman beats out the message on the walls and the men find the loose boards and bury the white man under them.  And now all the black men want to hacksaw off their chains.

The boson is missing and the Captain and crew start looking for him.  All of a sudden the slaves discover that they buried boson Bebe's cat with the body.  They take the cat out from under the floorboards.  One of the distraught white men goes below deck to make the slaves talk.  He takes out his knife and attacks one of the slaves, the one who was grinning.  The slave is knifed in the gut.  While the Captain tries to interrogate the wounded man, he dies. 

The Captain knows something is up.  He opens the place where they store the rifles and gives them to the crew.  Tamango sees this and plots how they can get the keys so they can get access to the rifles.  He asks Aich to help them by getting the keys for them.  Aich says she will not help him, but Tamango keeps talking until he convinces her to help.  When the Captain calls her to his cabin, she starts looking for the keys.  The Captain tells her that he is setting her free.  She has him write it out and sign it. 

She says now she can tell him the truth.  She says she hates him  -- has always hated him.  He becomes very angry and tells her she's lying.  She says she's not.  The Captain pushes her to the floor.  He then tells her he only wants her and will give up that girl in Rotterdam.  Aich cries and says she can't stay with him.  She doesn't belong with him, but with the slaves.   

The next day Aich learns from one of the women that the rebellion is on.  Aich tells the woman that she didn't get the key and also tells her to tell Tamango not to start anything.  The woman sneaks over to Tamango and tells him that Aich is not with them. 

The men dance to the drums for their exercise.  One after another men drop out of what has become a pretend competition.  The Captain comes out and the revolt is on.  The blacks jump up and start killing the white men.  A lot of black and white men die.  Tamango captures Aich and puts her down in the hold with the black men.  Then Tamango goes down and locks the hold door shut from inside.  The whites have lost eight men. 

Tamango shouts up to the Captain that they have his woman with them.    The Captain decides to wait them out.  The slaves have no food or water below.  The crew wants to use grape shot and the cannon against the slaves.  The Captain tells one of his men to bring up some pitch.  They break open a door to the hold, place a canvas over the hole, dip sticks in pitch and throw the sticks into the hold.  Smoke starts to fill the hold.  The Captain says the slaves will start coming out, but Tamango places a guard on the steps to prevent this.  Then the men bust a hole in the side of the ship to get fresh air into everyone. 

Now the Captain has to think of something else.  He tries to make a deal with Tamango.  Sent Aich out and no blacks will be punished.  The whites fire into the hold killing some of the slaves, including Tamango's biggest supporter.  Tamango tells his people to give up if they want to, but he will fight on.  Other slaves say they will fight too.  They start singing and banging their chains on the floor.  The captain finally says to bring out the cannon and the grape shot. 

Tamango tells Aich to go on up on deck.  But at the last second she decides to stay and fight.  She sings and claps with the others.  Out comes the cannon and grape shot.  It is fired.  There is no sound from the hold for a short while, but then a sadder tune is sung by the blacks.  


Good movie.  It kept my interest throughout.  In addition, Dorothy Dandridge is nice to look at.  There were definitely slave revolts on ships and some were successful as in the ships the Creole and Amistad.   ("There were nearly sixty revolts aboard slave ships crossing the Atlantic recorded during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century."  Slavery: bondage throughout history - Google Books Result by Richard Ross Watkins - 2001 - books.google.com).  But were there any where the slaves were willing to fight until almost all the slaves were dead?  I have not heard of any.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 



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