Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Mozambique (1964)

Mozambique is a 1964 low-budget crime thriller from writer-producer Harry Alan Towers employing his successful and profitable formula of shooting in exotic but very cheap locations. 

Brad Webster (Steve Cochran) is an American pilot in Lisbon and he’s down on his luck. After a plane crash no-one wants to hire him. Finally he is offered employment by a certain Colonel Valdez, to fly aircraft in East Africa (specifically Mozambique). For some reason the Portuguese police are very anxious that he should accept this job. In fact Inspector Cammaro (Paul Hubschmid) insists, and he is a very persuasive man.

On the flight to Lourenço Marques he meets beautiful blonde Danish singer Christina (Vivi Bach). She’s also been offered a job and a one-way plane ticket by Colonel Valdez.

On arrival he discovers that Colonel Valdez has passed away, to the regret of absolutely nobody. His extensive wealth and business interests (some legal and some illegal) are now up for grabs and his former business manager, the smooth but sinister Da Silva (Martin Benson), wants to make sure that he gets his share. Or, preferably, considerably more than his share. Valdez’s former business rival Henderson (Dietmar Schönherr) also hopes to profit from the sad demise of the colonel.

Brad just wanted a flying job but he’s drawn into a web of corruption, smuggling and murder. Not to mention white slavery. He can’t escape from the web because the chief Portuguese police investigator Cammaro won’t let him (and Cammaro has a number of charges that he is holding over Brad’s head) but he also can’t escape because he’s fallen for Christina and she’s landed herself in deep trouble having wandered unwittingly into the white slavery racket mentioned earlier.

It’s a reasonably solid plot and there is perhaps just a very slight tinge of film noir to Mozambique. In fact it can be seen as falling into the fascinating sub-genre of tropical noir, a sub-genre that flourished in the 40s and early 50s and included movies like Singapore.

Steve Cochran was a very fine actor who should have had a better career. His best movies were in the film noir mould (movies such as the superb Highway 301 and the amazingly bleak Private Hell 36). By the time he made this film his drinking and womanising was clearly taking its toll and in fact he died (in scandalous circumstances) before the movie was released. Nonetheless he gives an excellent performance. Cochran was always good at playing bad boys. This time he’s a bit of a bad boy but underneath he’s a decent guy who just isn’t getting the breaks. 

Hildegard Knef is just as good - mysterious, sultry and obviously dangerous. She’s the femme fatale and she does it well.

Vivi Bach is quite adequate as the naïve but charming Christina. Martin Benson makes an effective villain. Dietmar Schönherr is excellent as the devious Henderson.

Hildegard Knef had by this time begun a second very successful career as a singer and she gets to sing in this film (and she really is pretty good with that deep sultry voice). Vivi Bach also gets to sing, in a very different style - a light frothy 60s pop song that is kind of fun.

The visuals are a definite strength. The film was shot in Mozambique and Towers found some great locations. There’s some very nice colonial-era architecture. And if you’re looking for a place to shoot an exciting action climax you can’t do much better than the bridge over Victoria Falls.

A major highlight is the glimpse into a now vanished world. Mozambique was still a Portuguese colony in 1964. Whatever one thinks of colonialism there’s no question that it provided great backgrounds for adventure films and thrillers. This is a world of seedy sometimes desperate European expatriates, all on the make. It’s a world tailor-made for danger, romance and intrigue.

Blue Underground have released Mozambique on Blu-Ray, paired with another Harry Alan Towers production, Code 7, Victim 5, on a single disc. The anamorphic transfer (the film was shot in the Cinemascope ratio and in Technicolor) is very satisfactory. There are no extras but both movies are fun making this a good value for money double-header package.

Don’t expect an enormous amount of excitement. This is a crime suspense movie rather than an adventure romp but the suspense is done fairly well. The script is workmanlike and the acting is generally exceptionally good - much better than one would normally expect in such a movie. Mozambique is thoroughly enjoyable if you have a taste for the old-fashioned style of thriller. There’s also the tropical noir flavour alluded to earlier. Highly recommended.

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