Jericho (Dark Sands) Reviews
I actually watched a lot of Paul Robeson today. My intention had been to review the entire collection from the Criterion Collection, which is not a complete works but is awfully close and also includes several documentaries about the man's life. However, I reached the point where I couldn't focus on it anymore. For one thing, a lot of the movies aren't very good. I think Robeson himself knew that, and it's probably something to do with why he quit the movies. Or at least part of it. Of course, he also never really thought of himself as an actor, so that's probably part of it, too. And he was in a silent movie made in 1930, after I thought silent movies had stopped being made except as novelty items. And except for the silent part, it could have fit into the '60s due to its filming. Maybe tomorrow, I'll even get to the last couple of movies, but for now? I'll just talk about this.
Here, Robeson is "Jericho" Jackson. He has three years of medical training, and when World War I starts, he enlists in the US Army. (Or more accurately, when the US joined the war, which is not at all the same thing!) Probably due to the ridiculous byzantine regulations of the time, he isn't put in the medical corps. An old (white) friend, Captain Mack (Henry Wilcoxon), promises to try to get him in. However, as they are on a crew ship crossing the Atlantic, their ship is torpedoed. Jericho saves many lives, but he is also indirectly responsible for the death of a sergeant, and he is court-martialed. He convinces Captain Mack to let him spend one last New Year's Eve with his friends, and while he's there, an opportunity for escape comes up. He takes it. Captain Mack is imprisoned for aiding and abetting, and Jericho hijacks a boat and heads to Africa with its owner, Mike Clancy (Wallace Ford). He ends up as the leader of some tribe or another.
There are actually two movies on this same disc about Paul Robeson doing something to somehow help a tribe. In this one, he's mostly just lucky. He's there with medical knowledge at the right time. Why this then means that he ends up in charge, I cannot say. I missed that part, or else it just isn't explained very well. Some days, I have a hard time keeping track of things. It's the fatigue. I know that he takes over in the other movie because the old chief had died and he is capable of keeping everything together. And I guess it's similar in this one, though the chief is alive and just comes to rely on Jericho himself. However, he's still, when you get right down to it, an American. He's as educated and so forth as Robeson himself was, but neither one seems to me to be best suited for leading an African tribe. I think there are specialized skills to it that people raised in the US probably don't have, though of course I don't have any experience on the subject myself.
I can also totally sympathize with Captain Mack, who did kind of get screwed over by a man he'd stuck his neck out for. Yeah, he tried to get the court-martial to hear evidence that Jericho was not at fault for the man's death, and they wouldn't. Jericho saw and knew that. He knew that he wasn't actually entitled to one last furlough before he served his sentence, and I'm sure he knew that Captain Mack would bear the responsibility. How could he not? Years go by, and Jericho goes on with his life while Captain Mack rots in jail. I admit I'm not completely sure what Captain Mack thinks he will get by hauling Jericho back to civilization; reinstated in the army, I guess. His record cleared. If he can only convince Jericho to come back with him and tell everyone that Captain Mack had nothing to do with his escape, I guess everything will be okay. However, I'm not entirely sure why he thinks Jericho will be willing to do that given that it means a life prison sentence for him--and that's assuming Jericho is still alive, which he doesn't know.
I think the one I'm most looking forward to, which of course isn't on this collection, is [i]Show Boat[/i]. Robeson sings a little here and in [i]Sanders of the River[/i], but not much. And "Ol' Man River" is one of my favourites. My understanding, based on one of the documentaries in the collection, is that he changed the lyrics over the years to match his changing consciousness. Eventually, he realized that he himself didn't want to be Ol' Man River, because it's no help to anyone if you just keep rolling along. And I also kind of want to see [i]King Solomon's Mines[/i], yet another movie where Paul Robeson plays an African chief. It must have been frustrating to him, the kind of roles that were available to him. It's probably why he ended up leaving Hollywood. To be perfectly honest, I find a lot of what happened to him after that to be more interesting, though it says some pretty grim things about what it was like to be black in the US in those days.