West of Zanzibar (1954 film)

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For the 1928 film starring Lon Chaney, Lionel Barrymore and Warner Baxter, see West of Zanzibar (1928 film)


West of Zanzibar
"West of Zanzibar" (1954).jpg
U.S. theatrical poster
Directed by Harry Watt
Written by Max Catto
Jack Whittingham
Story by Harry Watt
Produced by Leslie Norman
Starring Anthony Steel
Sheila Sim
Edric Connor
Cinematography Paul Beeson
Edited by Peter Bezencenet
Music by Alan Rawsthorne
Distributed by General Film Distributors
Release date
24 March 1954
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

West of Zanzibar is a 1954 British adventure film directed by Harry Watt and starring Anthony Steel, Sheila Sim and Edric Connor. [1]

It is a sequel to Where No Vultures Fly (1951), from the same director and producer, and continues the adventures of game warden Bob Payton, played again by Anthony Steel. The subject of the film is ivory smuggling, and although the film appears to side with the African natives against economic exploitation, it was banned by the government of Kenya, which considered its approach too paternalistic. [2] [3]


The rural African Galana tribe move to Mombasa following a drought. The tribe's peaceful ways are destroyed by the influence of illegal ivory traders. Game warden Bob Payton turns detective, travelling to Zanzibar to discover the ringleader behind the ivory smuggling. Payton tracks his quarry through some of the most treacherous passages of the Zanzibar territory. Despite obstacles which include crocodiles and rhinos, Payton finally corners the villain. The gang's ringleader has given an African tribe land in return for ivory tusks, but he is repaid for his scheming when the tribe turns on him. [2] [4]



Where No Vultures Fly had been one of the biggest hits at the British box office in 1951 so Ealing Studios decided to make a sequel with the same star, director and producer, and again in association with the Schlesinger Organisation. Dinah Sheridan was replaced by Sheila Sim. At one stage it was planned for the film to be shot in 3-D but this did not happen. [5]

Like the first film, it was shot on location in Africa. The unit arrived in Nairobi in January 1953. [6]

It was one of the few films Steel made at his peak where he was not in support of an older male actor. [7]


A popular local dance song during the shoot was a Swahili folk song called "Jambo Sigara Baridl". The filmmakers liked the melody so much they decided to include it as background music. Then it was decided to prepare an English version of the song, with Anthony Steel singing lead vocals, along with a band, the Radio Revellers. When asked if he could sing, Steel replied, "Apart from making gurgling noises in the bath, I've never tried." Steel recorded the song anyway and it was a success on the charts. [8]


Kenya's film censors banned the film on the grounds it would hurt race relations in the country. [9]

The film was also banned in India after the protests of African students in that country. [10]


Box office

Universal distributed the film in the US. They opened it at the World Theatre in New York, which tended to show exploitation films – it was an experiment to have the film considered as an exploitation one as opposed to something arthouse, which was the traditional market for British movies in America. The experiment was not a success. [11] The film still ended up taking $400,000 in the US with over 10,000 bookings. [12]

In 1957, the film was listed as among the seventeen most popular movies the Rank Organisation ever released in the US. [13]

Critical reception

Variety said "The yarn is developed as a strong adventure meller in which native customs and rivalries play an important part. There is a brief attempt to point a moral which, well-meaning though it may be, appears a little fatuous on the screen. " [14]

Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times , "it is an exciting and generally creditable picture of a contemporary aspect of East Africa." [15]

BFI Screenonline later wrote:

West of Zanzibar was designed to capitalise on its predecessor's success but the actual film, and its history with audiences, couldn't be more different. Harry Watt... managed to maintain the fun pace, beautiful cinematography and focus on wildlife that made the first film so popular, but West of Zanzibar has one key difference: its subject. It replaces the worthy concerns for animal welfare in Where No Vultures Fly with a more contentious humanitarian question – the displacement of rural African tribes and their participation in ivory poaching. But it completely fudges the answer... Watt was reportedly taken aback, but the Kenyan Board's decision made explicit the film's problematic depictions of racial politics. West of Zanzibar has since disappeared from public view, and remains one of the least known Ealing titles. [16]

Sky Movies noted: "Anthony Steel once again as the game warden Bob Payton. He shares the Hollywood hero's ability to come through the most vicious fight with no more than a spotless handkerchief tied around one bulging bicep." [17]

TV Guide wrote, "relying too much on its scenic African location, this British adventure moves along slowly." [2]

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  1. "BFI | Film & TV Database | WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1954)". Ftvdb.bfi.org.uk. 16 April 2009. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 "West Of Zanzibar Review". Movies.tvguide.com. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  3. "BFI Screenonline: West of Zanzibar (1954)". Screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  4. "West of Zanzibar | BFI | BFI". Explore.bfi.org.uk. Archived from the original on 12 July 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  5. "You'll See Height, Width, Depth In Colour First "Three-D" Films Here By End Of Year". The Sunday Herald . Sydney: National Library of Australia. 1 March 1953. p. 4. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  6. "LOCATION SEARCH IN AFRICA". South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus . NSW: National Library of Australia. 26 January 1953. p. 3 Section: South Coast Times AND WOLLONGONG ARGUS FEATURE SECTION. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  7. Vagg, Stephen (23 September 2020). "The Emasculation of Anthony Steel: A Cold Streak Saga". Filmink.
  8. "MOVIE NEWS". The Queensland Times . National Library of Australia. 19 November 1954. p. 5 Edition: Daily. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  9. "Kenya Bans A Film". The West Australian . Perth: National Library of Australia. 20 August 1954. p. 21. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  10. "Films hurt the Africans". The Argus . Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 21 May 1956. p. 2. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  11. "Yank Pix with BO Zip". Variety. 16 February 1955. p. 5.
  12. "Rank's Rebel Yell". Variety. 6 March 1957. p. 10.
  14. "West of Zanzbar". Variety. 7 April 1954. p. 6.
  15. Crowther, Bosley (18 January 1955). "Movie Review – West of Zanzibar – The Screen in Review; Adventure Film, 'West of Zanzibar,' Opens". The New York Times . Retrieved 22 February 2014.
  16. Cave, Dylan. "West of Zanzibar". Screenonline.
  17. "West of Zanzibar – Sky Movies HD". Skymovies.sky.com. 23 May 2002. Retrieved 22 February 2014.