6 February 2011 | tavm
Paul Robeson's Song of Freedom is one of his most compelling films
In reviewing movies starring people of color in chronological order for Black History Month, we're now in 1936 when singer/actor Paul Robeson has one of his strongest roles yet on film. In this one, he's Johnny Zinga, a London dockworker whose constant singing during break time gets him the attention of impresario Gabriel Donozetti (Esme Percy) who offers him a chance to entertain in various concerts. He becomes successful but something pulls him back to his ancestral homeland in Africa and when someone confirms his heritage, he chucks his career to bring himself and his wife, Ruth (Elisabeth Welch) along with servant Monty (Robert Adams), there to claim his inherited royalty. But the native leader (James Solomon) there doubts him along with the rest of the tribe with the exception of Mandingo (Ecce Homo Toto). I'll stop there and just say this was dramatically satisfying from beginning to end and Robeson really carries the film on his own shoulders whether singing or reciting his lines. Ms. Welch herself has a nice singing voice as shown near the end. Some humor is also appreciated whenever Donozetti teaches some lessons to Johnny and since Monty is the same race as his superiors, his stereotypical antics is not as offensive as it would be with a Caucasian as his boss. So in summation, Song of Freedom is one of the most compelling films in Paul Robeson's career. P.S. One of his numbers is from the operatic version of "The Emperor Jones" as adopted musically by Louis Gruenberg. If you know about Mr. Robeson, you know his previous portrayal in the title role when it was originally a play and then later a movie.