In Cape Town Affair, African art is everywhere in the Communist settings, even though no black African characters appear there.

Stylistically, Cape Town Affair is similar to Pickup on South Street in depicting its characters primarily in working class milieux.

In the Cape Town version, Joey, the Red’s apartment is prominently decorated with African works of art.

Candy is loyal to Joey until she realizes that he is a communist.

Candy realizes she is the dupe of a Communist spy ring. Visually, the Communists’ office in Cape Town Affair and...

... in Pickup on South Street. are strikingly similar, especially in mise en scene, with its connotation of “wealth.” The luxurious standard of living enjoyed by the Communists is in stark contrast to Skip’s.

The Communist spy in Pickup on South Street, seems wealthy, as does...

... his counterpart in Cape Town Affair, here cast to relflect “red scare” fears of Communist China.


In the intelligence service office, Verwoerd looks on as the top Intelligence Agent speaks to Donkey, the captain and several other intelligence officers, solidifying their plans to end a communist espionage ring.

Various South African agents collaborate with Verwoerd’s symbolic approval.

This image of a nanny from the chase scene is the one African image in Cape Town Affair.

In both films, Skip’s only motivation is his love for Candy. Here he visits her in the hospital, as he does...

... in Pickup on South Street.

She is his salvation, as...

... he is hers.




Verwoerd and Cape Town Affair

On September 6, 1966, Verwoerd was assassinated (South Africa 1975 60). In 1967, the same year Cape Town Affair was released, according to South Africa 1975,

“the threat of terrorist activity on the borders of Angola, Mozambique and Rhodesia created a need for renewed vigilance on the part of the South African Police” (61).

Originally entitled Escape Route Cape Town, Cape Town Affair supported the ideology of the border films that resulted from this anti-apartheid terrorist activity and supported Verwoerd’s vision of a white republic.

After his assassination, Hendrik Verwoerd became even more of an icon of the Afrikaner Nationalist republic, so his portrait represents both the man, Verwoerd, and his vision, a pro-apartheid republic. In Cape Town Affair, Verwoerd literally looks over the whole pro-apartheid/anticommunist project as if endorsing it. The film frames the portrait not only visually but through the characters’ dialogue, enhancing the mission Verwoerd’s image symbolizes. Audience members can't miss Verwoerd’s portrait on the walls of several settings in the film, and since in 1967, they would be predominantly Afrikaner, they would not miss the values he represents.  Cape Town Affair, then, frames its argument by attaching it to a portrait, in this case of the icon of the South African Republic, Hendrik Verwoerd.

The first key scene highlighting Donkey (Tiger in Pickup), the Police Officer in charge, the national security agent captain, and Sam shows us Verwoerd’s photograph hanging on the wall beside the door of Donkey’s office. When the national security agent enters the scene, Verwoerd’s photograph seems almost superimposed onto the agent’s face, as if Verwoerd’s wisdom drives the agent’s search for communist espionage. Verwoerd seems to watch from the photograph when Sam walks into the office and goes by the photo, as well, but the photo image is darkly lit before Sam knows about communist connections with the microfilm lifted from Candy’s purse—this time on a double-decker bus instead of a subway, as in the original.

The photograph again is displayed prominently in the first scene in which Donkey and the captain confront Skip about the microfilm he has lifted. Again in Donkey’s office, the photo seems to look over Donkey’s shoulder as Donkey questions Skip about the microfilm before the captain enters to reinforce the national security problems the microfilm might cause. The photograph seems to legitimize anticommunist and, consequently, pro-apartheid leanings, since it acts like a dominant figure that cannot be hidden. It appears between Skip and Donkey early in the scene, facilitating Donkey’s questioning, and then serves as the right side of a frame for Skip after the captain enters and makes a plea for Skip to act on his patriotism—“Just as we were going to grab a top red agent, you showed up,” the captain argues, and, just like in Pickup, Skip tells the captain and Donkey to “save that patriotic flag waving.” Both Skips only see a payday from the microfilm.

In the third key scene foregrounding Verwoerd’s photograph, Candy, Donkey and the Captain frame Verwoerd’s photo. Verwoerd’s picture is not haphazardly placed in Donkey’s office. It remains prominent, like a figure of Washington or Lincoln in the background of a governmental office in the United States. The position of Verwoerd’s photograph makes him seem like a fourth person in the room, especially since none of the other characters block it. They may cross the photo, but they never stop in front of it for very long. Verwoerd, then, seems to look on as the governmental official asks Candy for help: “You do want to help us fight communism, don’t you?” he exclaims.

And Verwoerd reinforces the nationalism behind Donkey’s remarks about Skip, whom they know holds the microfilm: “There’s a lot of difference between a traitor and a pickpocket,” he says, suggesting that low level criminals like Skip still hold the same nationalist anticommunist and pro-apartheid ideals as he and the captain, especially since Skip is white and of Western European stock. The Afrikaner nationalist ideology represented by Verwoerd is most strongly emphasized in the intelligence office where another print of the same photograph is on display. There Verwoerd looks on as the top Intelligence Agent speaks to Donkey, the captain and several other intelligence officers, solidifying their plans to end a communist espionage ring. There are three shots in this brief scene, but all three of these shots include the photograph of Verwoerd as a centerpiece, as the foci behind their agenda. Unlike the original Pickup on South Street, then, images on display serve as representations of characters’ ideology. The original Pickup instead emphasized a seedy underworld devoid of artwork and representative wall hangings.

In Cape Town Affair this use of framed wall hangings as props demonstrating ideology occurs not only in governmental offices but also in several characters’ apartments, where artwork displayed on walls and on tables as sculptures highlights the two opposing views in the film: patriotic Afrikaner nationalism stimulating anticommunist and pro-apartheid policies versus communist espionage encouraging the erasure of Afrikaner independence and apartheid policies. Although no photographs of Verwoerd hang in Skip’s shack and Sam’s and Candy’s apartments, in a South African environment, neither do any examples of African art. In fact, the Cape Town presented in the film seems devoid of black faces, accept for a brief glimpse of a nanny and a couple of black African figures in a brief scene.

Sam’s apartment, for example, where Joey “the red” confronts Sam for information about Skip’s location, looks similar to Mo’s in Pickup on South Street, more like a Brooklyn walk up than an African home. Sam’s words come straight out of Pickup, as well, and are spoken in a similar Brooklyn accent:

“I happen to know what you’re after. You commies are after some film that doesn’t belong to you. What else do I know about commies? Nothing except I don’t like ‘em.”

She explains this before Joey shoots her because she refuses to reveal Skip’s location. Skip’s shack is decorated with pinups and harbor scenes, again with no African art, and Candy’s apartment walls are bedecked with Japanese textiles and water colors, not African figures. Representative art was carefully planned in each of the film’s settings.

Because of this careful planning and, especially, highlighting of Verwoerd’s photograph in settings foregrounding nationalists, the use of African art in scenes centering on communist characters gains meaning. In both Joey’s apartment and the communist leaders’ office, African art highlights the anti-apartheid, pro-black nationalist beliefs of the communist characters interacting there. Joey’s apartment, especially, places African art at the fore. When Candy calls on Joey to discuss the microfilm taken from her purse, we see statuettes and paintings of black African figures throughout the space. As Candy and Joey talk, we see an African statue behind him and a painting of African figures to his left. Another African figure in statue form stands to the left of Candy. A black and white African image hangs beside the closet door. An African mask and spear hangs on the wall beside the exit door to the apartment and between Candy and Joey, and an African textile hangs on the other side of the door serving as the rest of a frame that prominently displays Joey’s black African sympathies.

More African art can be seen during the second scene shot in Joey’s apartment. In this scene where Candy confronts Joey about the microfilm after Skip refuses to return it, Joey and Candy frame an African statue, and Joey is framed by two African art pieces on the wall: an African figure and a landscape. And when the two go to Joey’s boss’s office, African art again highlights their anti-apartheid and pro-African nationalist ideals. Here a statue of an African figure stands on the communist leader’s desk. African art and textiles hang on the wall to the left of Candy and behind the couch where Joey sits. An African statue seems to look up at the communist chief. African art seems to be everywhere in these two communist settings, even though no actual black African characters are in the scenes. The only non-European communist is in fact an Asian, who makes the demand, “delivery [of the film] must be made tomorrow night.”

The anticommunist South African officials, then, are distinguished from the communists in ways that highlight their views on apartheid and the two distinctive nationalist movements—the Afrikaners’ and the black Africans’. As in Pickup on South Street, communism and communists are depicted as worse than low level crime and criminals like Skip, Sam and Candy. But Cape Town Affair takes anti-communism one step further in this South African setting, since communism for white South Africans meant Black African insurrections, the end of Apartheid policies, and the loss of white control of the nation and its government.

Propaganda films like Cape Town Affair worked for their white South African audiences because they supported white independence and control of an African nation. When Skip and Sam talk in the tea house about giving up the microfilm, the power of that Afrikaner nationalist ideology becomes clear. Skip asks Sam, “Are you waving the flag, too?” And Sam replies, “Even in our crummy business you gotta draw the line somewhere,” a line Sam draws with Joey to her death and that eventually Skip draws, even if mainly to gain Candy’s respect. The communist espionage ring is thwarted, since they don’t get away with the microfilm and whatever secrets it contains. But ultimately what the film reinforces is Apartheid and the White Afrikaner dominated South Africa it allows. 

Works cited

Botha, Martin P. “The South African Film Industry: Fragmentation, Identity Crisis, and Unification.” Kinema. Spring 1995.

August 21, 2003.

Custen, George F. Twentieth Century’s Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Culture of Hollywood. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Dixon, Norm. “In Darkest Hollywood: Cinema and Apartheid: Previewed by Norm Dixon.” Film and Racism in South Africa.

August 21, 2003.

Fuller, Samuel. A Third Face. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Harrison, David. The White Tribe of Africa: South Africa In Perspective.  Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981.

Silverman, Stephen M. The Fox That Got Away. Secaucus, New Jersey: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1988.

South Africa, 1975: Official Yearbook of the Republic of South Africa. Second Edition. Johannesburg: South African Department of Information, 1975.

Suttner, Immanuel.“History of South African Film: Looking Back, Looking Forward.” Arts and Culture. 2003.

August 21, 2003.

Tomaselli, Keyan. The Cinema of Apartheid: Race and Class in South African Film. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.

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