Slavers (1978)

 

 

 

Director:     Jurgen Goslar.

Starring:    Trevor Howard (Alec Mackenzie), Ron Ely (Steven Hamilton), Britt Ekland (Anna von Erken), Jurgen Goslar (Max von Erken), Ray Milland (Hassan), Don Jack Rousseau (Mazu), Helen Morgan (Malika), Ken Gampu (Musulma), Cameron Mitchell (Enrico Da Silva), Larry Taylor (Williams), Brian O'Shaughnessy (O'Connor), Erica Schramm (Mrs. O'Connor), Art Brauss (Rustam).

slave trade in east Africa around 1884

 

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

In Germany two men in a duel fire their pistols at each other.  The winner, Erik von Erken, is ordered to leave the country. 

"Slavery.  The scourge of Africa.  For hundreds of years this outrage flourished, while a continent was ravaged, a people decimated.   It was a trade that prospered from the basest of human instincts.   A trade founded on evil, nurtured by greed.  It was a trade that pitted white against black, European against Arab, tribe against tribe and even brother against brother.  But this is the story of the end of this cruel, barbarous trade in the coastal regions of east Africa near Zanzibar and of the people caught up in the drama of one of the final chapters in the annals of the African slave trade."  Circa 1884. 

Two months later.  Embarkation point to Karimba.  The exiled nobleman Max von Erken and his wife Anna von Erken reach the embarkation point.  Anna looks at a young man named Steven Hamilton a little too long and Max gets a bit jealous. 

An African chief named asks a young woman named Malika what would she give to have his son Mazu as a husband?  Malika says:  "My life."  The chief laughs and says a dead wife is of no use to anyone.  Behind her stands Mazu, the Chief's son.  Meanwhile, an Arab named Hassan, a slaver, readies his group of black warriors.  He gives the signal and the warriors rush the small village.  They start grabbing the villagers and subduing them.  The chief's son fights back, killing two of the warriors.  He then has to run to get away from two other warriors.  The attackers burn the buildings of the village as they start marching their captives away from the area.  The Chief himself is forced under the waters of the river and drowned..

Max and Anna are on the boat along with other Europeans. A man named O'Connor is a doctor who works at a nursing center in Karimba.  With him is Mrs. O'Connor, a trained nurse.  He sees the village of Mazu burning on top of a hill.  The Captain comments:  "And this was once the most peaceful part of the river."   The white says that Europe has forbade the slavery trade last year with the signing of the anti-slave trade act in Brussels.  The Captain says that over 30,000 slaves have been sold in the Arab markets this year and most of the trade takes place on this coast. 

The Arabs with rifles watch over the captured slaves.  The Chief's son tries to get Malik's attention.  He throws a trinket at her and she looks around, but doesn't see him.  Hassan uses a rifle to shoot and kill a slave in a pond.  Another slave is then grabbed and forced into the pond.  Hassan gives the rifle to Dr. O'Connor, but he misses his target.  Hassan grabs the rifle from him and shoots the slave.  A visitor arrives for Hassan and he must excuse himself, but he adds:  "Please, go on with your sport." 

Hassan talks with his competitor Alec Mackenzie.  MacKenzie says that Musulma is said to have raided the Wylongas and took more than 200 slaves, but he thinks the event is more like the style of Hassan than Musulma.  He goes on to say that he and Hassan must settle with Musulma once and for all.  There is a fellow, however, who will deal with Musulma. 

The ship carrying the Europeans lands at Karimba Trading Station.  Passenger Steven Hamilton tells the Captain he would like to accompany him tomorrow morning on his route. 

A large black man, Musulma, enters the hut of Hassan.  Hassan tells him to stay outside the hut until he finishes eating, but the fellow knocks Hassan's small table over and says that Hassan had better listen to him or he will be dead.  He says he caught 254 Wylongas for Hassan.  In two weeks Musulma will have to lead some 2,000 natives along the coast, while Hassan does nothing.  He adds that Villano sees him as a traitor and wants Musulma dead.  Hassan tells Musulma to kill Villano before Villano can kill him. 

MacKenzie talks with a chief.  He says he will give the chief weapons in exchange for 30 strong men.  The chief says they don't need the weapons, but MacKenzie warns him that all the tribes around the area are arming themselves with western weapons.  MacKenzie comments:  "Your people will be butchered."  The chief is not impressed. 

Going home, MacKenzie learns Mr. Hamilton has come to speak with him.  MacKenzie knew Steven some 25 years ago.  He wants to know why his nephew has returned now.  He suspects that Steven has come back seeking a hand out from his old uncle.  MacKenzie tells Steven not to expect any funds from him. 

During the night, the Europeans are set upon by some natives under Musulma.  The Europeans have more rifles and pistols than the natives.  Bill Parry is killed and the killer grabs Mrs. Parry and starts to take her with him.  He is stopped by Max who strangles the native to death. 

MacKenzie makes some home-made grenades.  He throws one into a wagon full of explosives, setting them off.  This chases the natives away.  The Chief's son comes to MacKenzie to ask for help.  Nurse O'Connor already knows about the massacre of Mazu's people, except those taken to be slaves.  The chief's son says he followed the slavers up into the mountains. 

Anna has taken a liking to Steven and he to her.  She asks Steven why he decided to stay here?  He just says that if she were his wife, he would never have brought her to this place.  Steven also asks Anna if she really is the wife to her husband? 

Mrs. O'Connor condemns MacKenzie for selling weapons to those natives that attacked the Europeans. MacKenzie condemns her as a "Bible thumper".    He says he was the one who built the mission for the doctor and his wife.  The main concern of the gathered whites is defense against another possible native assault upon them.  MacKenzie tells the Chief's son to take his nephew Steven to see Enrico Da Silva.  Steven says that he does not feel like traveling through the countryside with a kafir (equivalent to the N word in the USA).  The Chief's son leaves.  MacKenzie tells his nephew that the native will never forgive him for this insult. 

Steven goes down to the river to be with Anna.  She takes her clothes off slowly in front of Steven.

MacKenzie tells the ship's Captain to buy as many weapons as he can.  He says what he really needs is a cannon.  MacKenzie notices Anna running out of the woods to put her shoes on.  He asks her if her husband is looking for colonies for Germany?  She says no, but MacKenzie doesn't believe her.  As she tries to leave, MacKenzie grabs and kisses her.  She slaps his face and then leaves. 

Steven and the Chief's son began their journey together. 

Anna's husband asks her:  "Did you enjoy it?"  She doesn't say anything. 

At camp during the night, lions start approaching the camp.  Steven falls into a covered pit.  A female lion seems about ready to jump on the trapped Steven, but with a rifle the Chief's son kills the lion.

Da Silva is moving slaves.  When the Chief's son sees them he leaves his horse behind to go get Malika.  Steven chases after him to stop him.  When he catches his man, they start fighting.  They so exhaust each other that the slavers grab the two of them to sell as slaves.  On the march Steven sees one of the slavers kill a native.  He doesn't like it, which earns him the enmity of Da Silva.  The slaver says that if Steven likes the girl the slavers are raping, he will give her to Steven after the Arabs are finished with her.  Steven spits in the man's face.  Da Silva tells him that he will regret that when he is dying of thirst.     

Max comes to Anna to tell her that this is the perfect time for him to get on with the expedition to explore the regions west and north of here.  She pleads with him to let her go with him and he relents.  They have porters who carry boats with them.  Max and Anna go downstream in a boat.  Anna asks:  "Max, please forgive me."  He tells her that he needs her.  They kiss.  They come upon some white water and both are thrown out of the boat.  They grab onto some rocks.  Max pushes Anna to safety, but exhausts himself so much that he is pushed downstream by the white water.  His body is taken over the nearby huge waterfall.  

Anna returns to Karimba.  Mr. MacKenzie is very ill.  Anna goes in to see how he is doing.  She has MacKenzie's lover go for a doctor. 

A native woman gives birth to a baby.  Da Silva arrives.  He talks with Steven, who tells Da Silva that his Uncle MacKenzie sent him here to speak with Da Silva.  Da Silva has his men release the nephew.  Now Steven asks to get the Chief's son released, but the men say that the fellow has already been branded with the V brand.  Da Silva sides with his men on this.  Da Silva gives the order to kill the new born baby. The baby is killed. 

Anna still watches over MacKenzie.

Steven blackens his face with soot from the camp fire. He then kills an Arab guard and frees the Chief's son.  Then the two of them free Malika.  Steven strangles the slaver leader, while with a knife the Chief's son kills the assistant.  The next morning Da Silva and two men go after Steven and the Chief's son (and Malika). 

The passenger ship returns to Karimba.  Steven and his two companions also reach Karimba.  Steven gets off his horse to hug Anna.  MacKenzie now speaks with Steven, who tells him that Da Silva is trying to kill both Musulma and Hassan and take over the whole slave operation.  He and his men have already killed Villano. 

MacKenzie and Steven decide to take the ship and cut off Da Silva's progress.  The Captain was successful in procuring more weapons for MacKenzie.  Mrs. von Erken now gets on the ship.  Steven comes in to her cabin to see her.  He has heard that her husband is dead and he asks Anna how it happened.  After she tells him, he asks her is she will go with him now? 

Da Silva and his men arrive at Hassan's tent.  Hassan is suspicious.  He asks about Villano, but  Da Silva is not going to tell him what really happened.  Hassan tells Da Silva that he has a job for him to do. 

Da Silva rides over to see Musulma. 

The Captain and MacKenzie talk about getting ahead of Da Silva. 

The next day Da Silva gets up to have his breakfast.  He walks around the area looking at the dead bodies of Musulma's menm who were killed by Da Silva and his men.  Musluma is hanging upside down from a tree, while ants crawl all over him and bite him.  Da Silva turns around and sees Hassan and his men pointing their rifles at him.  The Arabs shoot and kill Da Silva and his two henchmen. 

Steven tells MacKenzie that he won't continue the voyage with him.  MacKenzie pulls out a pistol and tells Steven to get back on the ship or he will kill him.  Steven pulls his pistol upward toward Mackenzie and tells MacKenzie to go ahead and shoot.  MacKenzie is not going to shoot under these circumstances.  Now Steven says he will go with MacKenzie if the man will free Mazu's people.  Steven asks MacKenzie if it's true that he is Villano.  MacKenzie says yes.  Anna runs over to Steven and MacKenzie shoots her in the right thigh.  Steven tries to come to her rescue, but MacKenzie shoots him in the back.  MacKenzie tries to raise himself up and shoot MacKenzie, but the Captain shoots the pistol out of Steven's hands.  MacKenzie laughs and laughs.

One of MacKenzie's assistants throws the gold dust on the ship right into MacKenzie's face.  MacKenzie drops to the ground and the assistant throws more gold dust over his face.  Now the ship's explosives on deck explode, destroying the ship.  Malika is hurt in the explosion, but lives.  The chief's son pulls Malika out of the water.  MacKenzie is dead.  Anna and the assistant live. 

 

 

They say that this film is a slavery exploitation film.  Maybe the European version had a lot of nudity, violence and mayhem, but it looks to me that the Americanized, puritanized version for the USA is very tame indeed.  There is virtually no nudity and the violence and mayhem are also very limited.  The movie looks as though it has had all the "good" parts taken out of it. Something interesting is about to happen, butt the scene just ends before it really gets started.  American Puritanism  -- Blah!  Thumbs down on it.  It's certainly not good for great art on film. 

There are several love stories in the film:  the love between the chief's son and Malika, the love between Steven and Anna, and the love between Anna and her husband.  They are certainly not great love stories, but still they are in the film.  I don't see any of this as exploitative (as seen in the Americanized film). 

The basic plot is simple.  You have a bunch of slavers from different ethnic backgrounds (the Scottish MacKenzie, the Arab Hassan, the black Musulma and the Mexican-American Da Silva) all participating in the evil trade of slavery. These slavers are almost totally without principles.  They are a true bunch of capitalists judging everything in terms of greed and profit.  They will stoop to do anything and everything, including the murder of their competitors. 

The movie says it's about the end of slavery, but the actual film doesn't really indicate that slavery is ending.  It just says that among the competing capitalists, the most ruthless comes out on top and builds a monopoly of the slave trade.  The only moral release the viewer has is that the slavery capitalists are almost all killed off. 

And yet the movie is still entertaining with quite a bit of action, including an attack by one group of slavers against another group. 

There were a lot of good actors in the film, but no one really stood out as a very good actor.  Maybe it's the script. 

The main good thing about the film that it does show the brutality and inhumanity with which the people called slaves were treated throughout the whole process.  I still know a lot of foolish people (including fanatical racists) who say slavery was never really that bad.  The film says slavery was really bad. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

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