For Reel

Song of Freedom (1936)
December 31, 2016, 6:25 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: J. Elder Wills
3 Stars
song-of-freedomSong of Freedom was a significant turning point for Paul Robeson in that it followed in the immediate aftermath of Sanders of the River, a film which the actor disowned and would lead him to implement a clause in his contract regarding the final edit of his pictures. The film follows a singer on the London docks who, shortly after being discovered and achieving success, seeks his ancestral roots in Africa. Robeson’s deep, emotionally dynamic voice is enough to warrant a viewing—he sings early and often, with the picture addressing music as being a tool used to discern one’s individuality (and therefore finding freedom). The non-musical bits in the early-half, however, impressively build on the theme of displacement. While Robeson has a loving marriage with his wife played by Elisabeth Welch, he fantasizes about his history and wishes to understand it more directly. Similarly, although music leads him out of the docks, he protests wildly against the man who discovers and attempts to train him, arguing that his individuality is being stifled through the training. These dramatic contradictions all but disappear in the misguided, incoherent third act in which Robeson visits Africa and has to win over the natives (including a witchdoctor) by arguing for the correctness of the western way of life, but regardless the film is successful as a curiosity and certainly one of the most historically significant acknowledgments of blacks in Britain at the time.