JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Hendrik Verwoerd’s photograph, displayed prominently in key scenes, highlights the characters’ anti-communist and pro-apartheid ideology.

Donkey and an intelligence agent work to break the Communist spy ring.

Verwoerd’s image seems to look over Sam’s shoulder as she chooses a tie from her suitcase.

Verwoerd’s picture is framed by Donkey and Sam.

In contrast, Pickup’s images in the police station - here with Mo picking out a tie from her suitcase - do not have any kind of political imagery although...

... the scenes shot in the police station have a similar blocking and composition in both films.

In Pickup on South Street, Skip has hidden the microfilm at home and...

... later examines it, as does...

... his counterpart in Cape Town Affair.

Claire Trevor/Sam speaks with a Brooklyn accent similar to her counterpart Mo in Pickup, and Cape Town Affair’s Skip/James Brolin speaks with an accent as American as Fuller’s Skip.

In the police station, again framed by Verwoerd’s picture, Skip and Donkey “discuss” Skip’s willingness to work for South Africa.

With Verwoerd’s image behind him, Donkey attempts to talk Skip into “coming clean with the microfilm.”

Rejecting any discussion of national interest, in Pickup on South Street, Skip explictly tells the Federal agent, “Don’t wave that flag at me.”

Cape Town Affair, anticommunist fervor and apartheid politics

In spite of the few changes to the screenplay, Cape Town Affair fits just as well in an updated setting as Pickup did in 1953 New York. Such a good fit for a 50s Red scare film becomes possible in Cape Town Affair because of its South African setting and its foregrounding of the founder of the Afrikaner Republic, Hendrik Verwoerd, whose photograph prominently hangs in several of the Cape Town Police and Intelligence offices. For South Africans, Verwoerd’s portrait signifies the anticommunist values espoused by Fuller’s screenplay, since Verwoerd’s Nationalist-led republic designed and constructed a program of Apartheid that was continuously threatened by communist-led resistance movements from its inception.

Verwoerd’s assassination just prior to the film’s release enhances his role as a heroic representative of the Afrikaner republic, a republic that maintained freedom for its white citizens only by oppressing black Africans and the communist party members and organizations that would help them protest against their program of Apartheid. Late 1960s South Africa, then, provides a perfect environment in which to drop a 1950s American anticommunist film. It also may provide ammunition for claims that Samuel Fuller—or at least Twentieth Century Fox Films—promoted a right-wing agenda in Fuller’s 1950s films and for 1960s 20th Century Fox International films shot in South Africa.

The 1967 remake, Cape Town Affair, nearly literally transposes Pickup on South Street, word for word, even though the Cold War paranoia in the United States had by then (the 1960s) been replaced by other fears: Internally the U.S. grappled with issues associated with the Civil Rights Movement and externally with those stemming from the Vietnam War. Instead of “translating” the film for a more current cultural context, Cape Town Affair seems to recreate what in 1967 would be dated characters and dialogue, at least in the United States. In fact, Webb even directs Claire Trevor, who plays Sam (Mo) to speak with a Brooklyn accent similar to that of the character in Pickup, and Cape Town Affair’s Skip (James Brolin) speaks with an accent as American as it is in Pickup on South Street. But in a South Africa driven by apartheid politics that denigrated communists and communism because of their association with the black national movement, 1950s “Red Scare” American politics like that reflected in Pickup work just as well in late 1960s Cape Town.

Twentieth Century Fox
and apartheid

Tomaselli’s The Cinema of Apartheid: Race and Class in South African Film illustrates the most powerful ramification of the anticommunist politics in Cape Town Affair: support for South African apartheid policies. According to Tomaselli, “Apartheid is a saleable commodity”(51). Although South Africa’s Minister of Defense, General Magnus Malan, claimed that control of media was meant to limit “giving excessive and unjustified publicity to the terrorists and thus playing into their hands” (Tomaselli 20), this “siege mentality” actually translated into cinematic treatments promoting Afrikan values:

“Reality becomes a choice between binary opposites—good versus bad, war versus peace, Black versus White, communism versus nationalism, Christianity versus Marxism. Films which do not fit this framework may have their meaning inverted through censorship directives” (Tomaselli 20).

Tight censorship policies were enforced by the South African subsidy system put in place in 1956 “designed to limit the production of non-commercial films” (Tomaselli 30) and The 1963 Publications and Entertainments Act, which “for the first time made formal provision for the censorship of locally produced material” (Tomaselli 14). When 20th Century Fox International began its vertical monopoly in South Africa in 1956, it conformed to the country’s pro-apartheid censorship policies until 1969, when, according to Silverman, the company had “an extraordinary gain of $11 million (from the sale of some South African theater holdings)” (141). According to a footnote in the Silverman text,

“These were 80 theatres that Spyros Skouras had bought for the company in 1957, after the U.S. Justice Department prevented Hollywood studios from owning theatres in America. Other properties were purchased through Europe and England. The South African holdings proved to be sitting on valuable pieces of real estate, so they were sold back to their original owners, the Schlesinger Brothers. Fox had sustained a studio facility in South Africa where it made some CinemaScope spaghetti westerns starring George Montgomery. Hollywood unions opposed the Fox South African studio, less for reasons of Apartheid … but because it posed a competitive threat.” (141)

Twentieth Century Fox was active in the white South African film industry from 1956 until 1969, and Cape Town Affair was one of the films produced in the South African Fox Killarney Studio. According to the 1964 Moody’s Industrial Manual, Fox bought Schlesinger Entertainment, a South African company, in 1956. Fox then owned 100% of Fox Theatres South Africa, which consisted of 144 South African movie houses and a Twentieth Century Fox Investments PTY Ltd., South Africa, the subsidiary under which Schlesinger Entertainment was housed. according to “History of South African Film,” 20th Century Fox controlled much of South Africa’s white Afrikaner film industry through the 1950s and 1960s, when a regulated subsidy system was introduced “to keep South African cinema a cinema for Whites only” (History of South African Film). Some films could only be seen by whites, and white-only studios received the only governmental funding in South Africa until 1974 (Tomaselli 22). Most cinemas did not obtain multiracial status until 1986 (Tomaselli 22).

Cape Town Affair was one of the films Fox produced in South Africa during its most fervent Nationalist period and reflects the politics of Apartheid created and enforced by Hendrik Verwoerd, the founder of the Nationalist movement. The republic Verwoerd established in 1960 enhanced governmental control of the cinema, since Afrikaner nationals now held even more power in the South African parliament. According to Botha, “Ideology and capital came together to create a national cinema that would reflect South Africa during the Verwoerdian regime.” Verwoerd’s and the Afrikaners’ South Africa promoted apartheid and opposed any elements they saw as hindering apartheid policies, especially communism. These ideals were concretized in Afrikaner films and in film’s Fox produced for the white Nationalists, where “idealistic conservatism was characterized by an attachment to the past, to ideals of linguistic and racial purity and to religious and moral norms” (Botha).

By the 1960s, the Afrikaner Nationalists led by Hendrik Verwoerd sought to “explain how the communists … undermine[d] the South African way of life” (Harrison 206). Communists were seen as a threat to Apartheid and to Afrikaner rule because they supported Bantu uprisings and anti-apartheid protests. The communists, then, became the target for Nationalists like Verwoerd, because they endangered the creation and maintenance of an Afrikaner-led republic in South Africa. The South African Yearbook from 1975 provides evidence for the anticommunist policies of the 1960s. Cape Town Affair serves as a film where these politics are illustrated through the same anticommunist zeal the Red scare produced in the United States during the 1950s—and in films like Pickup on South Street.

The multiple photographs of Hendrik Verwoerd placed in the settings of Cape Town Affair carry added weight because Verwoerd symbolizes Apartheid, the Nationalist movement, and its anticommunist policies. We see Verwoerd’s portrait reframed in the context of Fuller’s and, to a certain extent, Medford’s dialogue in five major scenes of the film:
1. a discussion in the police station between police officers,
2. a negotiation between Sam (Mo) and the same police officers,
3. a confrontation between the police officers and Skip,
4. a meeting between Candy and the police officers about Skip, and
5. a consultation in the Intelligence Office.

The photograph is displayed prominently in these key scenes as a way to frame characters and their dialogue and highlight the characters’ anticommunist and, with Verwoerd’s approval, pro-apartheid ideology.

Verwoerd was active in the Afrikaner Nationalist movement from the 1940s, as part of the Nationalist Cabinet (Harrison 155) until his rise to Prime Minister in 1960. Verwoerd’s ultimate goal to eradicate British rule and establish a republic ruled by Afrikaners outside of the Commonwealth began in 1948 and proved successful once the Afrikaners had a majority in the South African Parliament. According to Harrison, South Africa removed “Coloureds” from the common roll in 1956 and reduced the Senate to 54 members in 1960 (Harrison 158). 1960 was also the year Verwoerd announced, on January 20, that he proposed to hold a referendum on whether or not South Africa should become a republic, just sixteen months after he took office (Harrison 160).

With a parliamentary majority and an Afrikaner Prime Minister, Harrison suggests that the referendum vote still was difficult to predict (160), but on March 21, 1960, an incident occurred at Sharpeville that reassured Verwoerd and the rest of the Nationalists (Harrison 163). When a crowd of 15 to 20 thousand, mostly Blacks, gathered outside the Sharpeville police station, police opened fire without orders, killed 67 Africans and wounded 178, many of whom were shot in the back (Harrison 163). More shootings occurred in Lanza in Cape Town after protestors rioted, so Verwoerd introduced legislation making both the Pan African Congress and the African National Congress illegal and instituted a state of emergency (Harrison 163-64). Verwoerd escaped an assassination attempt soon after the riot, and 12,000 Black protestors were detained in pre-dawn arrests. From then on Afrikaners saw Verwoerd as a hero for the Republic (Harrison 164-65).

Continued: Verwoerd and Cape Town Affair:


To topPrint versionJC 47 Jump Cut home