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Song of Freedom (1936)

From a film company mostly known for it's horror and thrillers Song of Freedom is quite out of place in the Hammer history, yet still manages to offer a unique look at how widespread the productions company's genre of films were at one time.  While by no means a great film (and probably good would even be pushing it)the music and the era the film was produced in definitely makes it another historical milestone in Hammer's beginning.

The Song of Freedom is about a dockworker by the name of John Zinga (Paul Robeson) with a life long desire to know more about his heritage.  All he has of his mysterious heritage is a medallion and an incomplete song that's been stuck in his head since he was a child.  With his gifted singing ability John is discovered by a famous musician and becomes famous. In touring the world performing he meets a man who provides him with some information regarding his medallion, informing him that it's the royal symbol of the a small island off the coast of Africa.  With this John travels there in hopes of becoming their King and progressing their civilization.

The life of Paul Robeson, is much more interesting than his role or the film itself.  Son of an escaped slave, a remarkable athlete, singer, and theatrical actor but Robeson's career in America never took off due partly to racial prejudice of the time and his possible sympathy towards the Communist party and their virtues of which he applauded due to their seemingly lack of prejudice.  For a period of time Robeson's passport was revoked, he was blacklisted, and scorned by the media, this lead him to begin performing mostly outside the United States, mainly in Europe.   The backlash against him in America began his own personal downhill slide turning to drugs and multiple suicide attempts, yet still he seemed to have a strong following abroad, being quite knowledgeable in about 20 languages, many of which he used in his theater performances.

Robeson reminds me of a James Earl Jones of the early 1900's, very similar in tone and stature, and with a very entertaining singing voice which saves Song of Freedom from being a overly corn syrup type of a film.  The story simply didn't work for me, everything outside of the singing felt extremely campy, flat and unemotional, plus I felt John's reaction to learning he was an ancestor of his people's royalty, generations ago, to be a little overly entitled.  He learns his medallion is the symbol of his people's King and then immediately travels to the island claiming to be their King.  This is an example of where the film's transitions progressed way too quick (almost instantaneously) making it all unbelievable and a little awkward.   It's quite clear more focus was really put on Robeson's musical numbers than the film's story.  Overall, Song of Freedom is an interesting watch for some good old time songs (Robeson's most known for singing Old Man River, though that's not in this film), and the fact that this film was made in an era where prejudice was still pretty prevelent and a film with African America's in the lead roles wasn't a common place.


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