Sammy Going South DVD
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Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Produced in 1963
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
Looking absolutely magnificent, Alexander Mackendrick's adventure story of a young boy's journey across Africa is much more than a rousing Boy's Own yarn, says Julian Upton.
In Sammy Going South, after 10-year-old English boy Sammy Hartland’s parents are killed in a raid on Port Said during the Suez Crisis, the newly-orphaned boy, armed only with a tiny compass, starts a journey on foot to find his aunt in Durban, South Africa, some 5000 miles away. And so begins a series of picaresque adventures, seen almost exclusively from Sammy’s point of view, which range from the deathly dangerous to the unusually propitious — and back again.
In the hands of former Ealing director Alexander Mackendrick, Sammy Going South amounts to more than just an exotic, late colonial era Boy’s Own yarn (although this it is, too). Sammy is thrown into some dicey situations, a couple of them decidedly unsavoury (early on in the proceedings a Syrian pedlar betrays an interest in him that is somewhat outside the remit of the Boy’s Own story); the result is that he changes very quickly from innocent, rosy-cheeked cherub to stoic, vigilant adventurer, trusting no-one and wriggling out of any perceived danger with the agility of a snake. Sammy’s lack of sentimentality is refreshing in a film that centres on a child, but it isn’t without a heart, or indeed a sense of humour. When the young protagonist meets ageing diamond smuggler Cocky Wainwright (Edward G. Robinson), the two form an unlikely bond that develops into a touching and believable surrogate father-son relationship. And in these scenes both actors shine. Fergus Mclelland is quietly affecting as Sammy, his understated reactions conveying what seems a precocious grasp of screen acting (it’s a shame he won no further leading film roles); the great Robinson, gnarled and grizzled but wise and sturdy, gives one of the subtlest performances of his later career. As you’d expect from a film with solid Ealing credentials (it was made by Bryanston, the company headed by Michael Balcon after Ealing’s demise), Sammy Going South unfolds with polish and precision, and looks magnificent (cinematographer Erwin Hillier captures the Kenyan and Ugandan locations beautifully). Moreover, it’s all good, character-building stuff. Not surprisingly, then, it was chosen for 1963’s Royal Film Performance.
Julian Upton on 27th May 2010
Author of 150 reviews
After an air raid in Port Said kills his parents, Sammy Hartland (Fergus McLelland) is left alone, penniless and vulnerable in colonial Africa. So Sammy defiantly sets out to find his Aunt Jane, whom he vaguely remembers lives in Durban, South Africa - at the other end of the continent.
Along the way, Sammy encounters a variety of disparate characters and untrustworthy adults and navigates a treacherous path across desert, mountains and river, until he meets and forms an unlikely bond with world-weary hunter Cocky Wainwright (Edward G Robinson).
Vividly evocative of a world long gone, Sammy Going South is a lesser-known film from the brilliant career of Alexander Mackendrick, director of Ealing classics The Ladykillers and The Man in the White Suit. Unusually for the time, the film takes Sammy’s viewpoint throughout, as the audience is carried on his epic journey with him. A film about a child but resolutely for adults, Sammy Going South is an undiscovered gem that has been carefully restored to best showcase the beauty of the African landscape as seen through a ten-year-old child’s eyes.
Publisher: Optimum Releasing
Length: 118 mins
Cat No: OPTD1553
Format: DVD Colour
- Digitally Restored
- Brand new interviews with Fergus McLelland and James Mangold, friend and colleague of Alexander Mackendrick.
“Superb drama, wonderfully acted. ”
by David1947 on 3rd July 2010
Filmed over six months from May to November, 1962, on picturesque locations in Africa and at Shepperton Studios, England, Sammy Going South is a truly remarkable and w... Read on
Filmed over six months from May to November, 1962, on picturesque locations in Africa and at Shepperton Studios, England, Sammy Going South is a truly remarkable and wonderfully acted film directed with consummate skill by Alexander Mackendrick. Chosen as The Royal Performance Film of 1963, the film covers a five months period from November, 1956 to March, 1957. Ten years old English boy and only child Sammy Hartland (Fergus McClelland) lives in an apartment block in Port Said, Egypt, with his English parents. It is the start of hostilities in the Suez crisis and Sammy is out playing at the docks when the RAF launch the first bombing raid on Port Said. Terrified, Sammy runs home to find that his parents, along with some Egyptians, have been killed when a bomb hit the apartment block. The Egyptians he believed were his closest friends turn on him because he is English and, lucky to escape being killed, he runs away, heartbroken; penniless; traumatised and completely alone. He knows that he has an Aunt Jane, his mother's sister, who runs a hotel in Durban, South Africa and so, with only a toy compass to guide him and the irrepressible optimism of a ten year old, he starts his journey south on foot to travel to Durban, five thousand miles away at the other end of the African continent. The adventures he has and the people he meets en route form the story.
On his first night out, he is found sleeping on a sand dune in the middle of the Egyptian desert by a Syrian peddler (Zia Mohyeddin) who is sexually attracted to him and wants to have his way with him (the British Board of Film Censors asked for cuts to be made in these scenes before they would give the film a U certificate and the producers had to comply...although some small parts of the cut scenes did make it to the final release print and are included in this DVD). The Syrian offers to take Sammy further south over the mountains and Sammy agrees to go with him. But after a few weeks, it becomes clear to Sammy that the Syrian has no intention of taking him to Aunt Jane, but merely wants to keep Sammy with him indefinitely for his own ends. Later, the Syrian comes to a very bad end and Sammy makes off across the desert to Luxor and is found by a rich American tourist (Constance Cummings), who takes him under her wing. But, when he realises she is going to take him back to Port Said, he escapes and continues his journey south.
Throughout his five thousand mile journey from Port Said to Durban, Sammy meets many different types of people...some who want to molest him, or use him, or exploit him, so that by the time he meets the diamond smuggler Cocky Wainwright, wonderfully played by Edward G. Robinson, who only wants to help him, Sammy is still withdrawn and untrusting. But he and Cocky get on wonderfully together and a very touching moment in the film occurs when Sammy, now finally trusting Cocky, asks him if he can stay with him forever and Cocky replies that he can. Cocky and his band have now become his new family and Cocky's home Sammy's new home and, for the first time since Port Said, he is happy. But yet more trauma is on the way for him...!
The film itself, like Sammy, continually gathers strength as it goes along until it reaches by far its best sequences with Edward G. Robinson. In fact, all the scenes involving Edward G. Robinson and Fergus McClelland are wonderfully acted by the pair and what a team they make.
Beautifully filmed in all the splendours of CinemaScope and Eastman Colour, it was not an easy film to make by any means. There were casualties among the cast and crew, including Alexander Mackendrick suffering a back injury; two crew members being bitten by poisonous snakes; one crew member falling out of a tree and breaking his arm and Edward G. Robinson suffering a near fatal heart attack. However, it seems that just like his character Sammy, Fergus McClelland came through it all without a scratch. Beginner's Luck, perhaps. Fergus, then aged 11 and a pupil at Holland Park Comprehensive School in London, had been chosen for the part from thousands of other boys because he had the toughness and independence of spirit that Mackendrick was looking for.
Looked at today, the film (even though the version on this DVD is shorn of ten minutes of footagethe original full length version now believed to be lost) still resonates as strongly with me as it did when I first saw it in 1963. I remember the Suez crisis, being myself nine and a half at the time and early scenes where Sammy is listening to the BBC news about the crisis on the radio (read by Frank Phillips) bring it all back to me as though it were yesterday. The film has an incredible sense of time and place and this, coupled with the facial resemblance between the young Sammy and the young me, means the film has a very special meaning for me and I find it so easy to identify with Sammy and his trauma and his experiences, as it tells its story entirely from Sammys viewpoint.
I highly recommend this DVD of the newly restored Sammy Going South. But be warned. This may be a film about a child, but it is in no way a kind of Disneyfied kids picture. In fact, there are some very cruel and disturbing moments in it and, if you are a sensitive person, it may have you in tears and sobbing before the end. Some scenes from the film are deeply profound. Like the part where the bedraggled Sammy, on his journey down the River Nile on a steamer, leans over the rail and says to a companion passenger: If I died, no one would knowaunt Jane wouldnt knownobody would know! At that moment, I want to put my arms around him and hold him to me and let him know that someone loves him and really cares about what happens to him and that he is not alone and will never be alone again.
Extras on the DVD are a scene selection and brand new interviews with the legendary Fergus McClelland (mistakenly spelt McLeland on the DVD menu) and with James Mangold, former colleague and friend of the late Alexander Sandy Mackendrick. Fergus looks and sounds very young and vibrant for his age, considering he is 60 this year and of course, he will always be Sammy to his fans. A pity, though, that the original CinemaScope trailer couldn't have been included, as it would have been interesting to be reminded of how the film was pitched to the cinema-going public way back in 1963. I am delighted to share these reviews with one from none other than Sammy himself...Fergus McClelland.
“Star's Eye View”
by Fergus McClelland on 1st June 2010
I loved the full review I just read and agree with it. At the time, aged 11, I didn't have any idea of the subtlety of what Sandy MacKendrick was asking me to do. Some... Read on
I loved the full review I just read and agree with it. At the time, aged 11, I didn't have any idea of the subtlety of what Sandy MacKendrick was asking me to do. Some shots were heavily coached by him, others, he went over the wording with me and discussed what Sammy would be feeling like, in his view. I did the rest. Sometimes, a scen took ages, sometimes, I did what Sandy wanted at high speed. He said to a friend of mine in 1988 Fergus did very well - considering he was wrongly cast. At the time I was horrified, and then realised what he meant. He chose me for Sammy because I was highly independent and believable as a toughie. But Sammy is supposed to be slightly built, dark-haired and able to pass for an Egyptian.
The film has a brooding presence and shows a boy travelling from total numbness at the loss of his parents, through the horrow of losing his surrogate father to a new life. Very motivational. And very picturesque. I can't wait to see it again after so long. Hide