copyright 2004, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 47
right-wing noir, South African style
by Joseph K. Heumann and Robin L. Murray
In 1967, long-time Fox director, Robert D. Webb went to South Africa (for 20th Century Fox International) to slavishly remake Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street (1953), this time titled Cape Town Affair. Webb literally transports Pickup on South Street to its new setting, crediting Samuel Fuller and Harold Medford for a script nearly recreated word for word and for characters and interior sets nearly duplicated except for two changes: a change in two characters’ names, from Mo to Sam and from Tiger to Donkey and – most importantly—a move to late 1960s Cape Town, South Africa, that becomes concretized by a portrait of the late Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd on the walls of a police station and an intelligence agency’s office.
The film is a natural to remake in this setting, not as a recontextualization but as a complete transposition not only of dialogue but ideology for several reasons: 20th Century Fox, Pick Up On South Street’s production company, produced the film for Killarney Studios, their South African subsidiary. The film in its original form reinforces anticommunist values, which, in South Africa, are equated with apartheid policies. And the film was produced and distributed to white-only audiences in South Africa who were growing more and more paranoid about communist-led Black insurrections, especially on South African borders. Unlike with most remakes, Webb and Fox did not recontextualize Pick Up On South Street when it remade it in 1967 because it did not need to change the film to fit its 1960s South African location.
Overview of Fuller’s Pickup on South Street
Fuller’s Pickup on South Street, set in New York City, fits the early 1950s milieu in which he sets the film, since it draws so strongly on the Cold War paranoia and fear of communist espionage. A synopsis of Pickup on South Street makes its relevance to the Cold War period clear: After some microfilm is picked out of a purse owned by pretty prostitute and unknowing messenger for the communists (Candy, played by Jean Peters), the FBI and the police collaborate to find the pickpocket, who turns out to have a record of three convictions (Skip, played by Richard Widmark). The authorities use a stoolie’s (Mo’s/Sam’s, played by Thelma Ritter in the original) help and stop a communist espionage scheme. The pickpocket, Skip, and Candy eventually fall in love and help the FBI and police—especially Tiger (Murvyn Vye) catch the commies, a choice that cleans up Skip’s record and gains him respect in Candy’s eyes.
Samuel Fuller describes Skip as “[c]ompletely asocial …, an outsider who doesn’t give a damn about the rest of the world” and Candy as “a good-looking, streetwise dame with a checkered past” (292). Fuller names the police officer working with the FBI, Captain Dan Tiger and portrays him as “the captain of the anti-pickpocket brigade who’s trying to put Skip away for life” (292). But it’s Moe, “a stoolie whose one goal is to save up enough money for a decent cemetery burial,” who states the theme of the film: “What do I know about Commies? Nothing. I know one thing: I just don’t like them” (Pickup on South Street).
Fuller’s Pickup is his reworking of a Dwight Taylor script (with story credit), Blaze of Glory (1952) about “a woman lawyer [who] falls in love with a criminal she’s defending in a murder trial” (Fuller 292). To avoid the long courtroom case, Fuller changed the characters and went “down a few rungs lower on the ladder of criminality” (Fuller 292). But Dwight Taylor’s script also highlights drug trafficking (Gallafent 245) rather than communist spies, so changes to the Taylor script also reflect the 1946 amendment to the Motion Picture Production Code. “Particular Applications” of the Code “prohibit[ed] the kinds of content which, over the years, [had] caused trouble for the industry” (Balio 380). Changes in Pickup relate most directly to section I of these particulars, “Crimes Against the Law.”
In his autobiography, however, Samuel Fuller does not mention the drug trafficking in the original script or problems of the Production Code (and he never mentions Cape Town Affair). Instead, he highlights the cold war milieu as the basis for the film’s chief conflict between patriotic Americans and members of a communist spy ring, remarking on Klaus Fuchs, “the spy who operated from England, selling secrets on microfilm to the Soviet Union” (295). Fuller “wanted to take a poke at the idiocy of the cold war climate of the fifties” with Pickup, so the film was “told through the eyes of the powerless” (295). As Fuller put it, “Cold war paranoia? Hell, those crooks were most interested in just getting by” (295).
A protagonist like Skip seems as reluctant a hero as the noir nihilists cited by Barbara Deming or even a psychotic like Alan Ladd’s character in This Gun for Hire. Yet unlike the noir heroes whom Deming mentions, Skip is not incited to action by a femme fatale. He chooses “political” action to save (successfully) the woman he loves. Unlike Deming’s heroes or Ladd’s psychotic character, too, Skip wins. Only Moe loses her life as a result of the film’s communist espionage plot.
Post WW2 anticommunist fervor and its impact on filmmaking
anticommunist movies grew in number in the United States during the late 1940s and 1950s as a result of many historical events surrounding the Cold War—including Russia’s development and testing of the A and H bombs, China going Communist, the Korean War, and House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigations, as well as the Senate (McCarthy) hearings. Fuller directed several films with anticommunist themes during the early 1950s, including Steel Helmet, a film he also wrote. The film examines the Korean War and its consequences from the perspective of an American sergeant (Gene Evans). Although the film has an overall anti-war theme, it also argues against the totalitarianism of Communist North Korea, where love between soldiers (like that between Short Round and Sergeant Zack) is “scoff[ed]” at (Garnham 114). Fuller also directed films with an anticommunist feel for 20th Century Fox: Pickup on South Street, Fixed Bayonets and Hell and High Water.
Twentieth Century Fox’s The Desert Fox, for example, highlights the rehabilitation of the Nazi General Erwin Rommel. Twentieth Century Fox, like all Hollywood studios, had transformed itself in response to the 1948 Supreme Court ruling that prohibited studios from owning theatre chains and to “The House on Un-American Activities Committee hearings and the Hollywood blacklist” (Custin 309). Samuel Fuller’s Hell and High Water, especially, seems to respond to Fox’s political and social transformation, since the film speculates about communists’ attempts to drop a nuclear bomb on their own side and start World War III. In the film, the communist Chinese attempt to fly an American warplane from a small Alaskan island to bomb North Korea. The film’s anticommunist message is anything but subtle, but Fuller agreed to direct Hell and High Water as a “personal favor” to Zanuck (Fuller 307).
According to Fuller, he agreed to direct Hell and High Water after he and Zanuck had an altercation with J. Edgar Hoover regarding Pickup on South Street. Fuller recalls,“The FBI chief was very disturbed about Pickup on South Street and wanted to see Zanuck and me about it” (307). Hoover, according to Fuller, thought the film “had gone too far” (307). Yet when Hoover asked that “offending scenes” be “cut or reshot,” Zanuck refused (according to Fuller) (308). Fuller then rewrote the script of Hell and High Water so it was merely “an adventure yarn” with a “stylized, cartoonish tale” (308), as well as a site for an experimental use of Cinema Scope in the interior of a submarine (313). Yet, as with Pickup, according to Fuller, leftist critics saw the film as “anticommunist propaganda” (313). Such an esoteric period in the United States in which a film like Pickup on South Street fits so well raises the question, why does Webb’s remake of Pickup, Cape Town Affair, fit so comfortably into its new milieu, 1967 Cape Town, both visually and politically?
Anticommunist fervor and Pickup on South Street
Pickup on South Street, the 1953 Fuller film, works well in its urban 50s noir setting, with the Red scare and cold-war paranoia seeming to drive its fervor. But it also responds to the strictures of the Motion Picture Production Code against highlighting drug use and trafficking evident in the script on which the film was based. The amendment to the Code most relevant to Fuller’s choice to replace drug traffic with communist espionage was added on September 11, 1946. It states, under “Particular Applications” of the Code,
“The illegal drug traffic must not be portrayed in such a way as to stimulate curiosity concerning the use of, or traffic in, such drugs; nor shall scenes be approved which show the use of illegal drugs, or their effects, in detail” (quoted in Balio 380).
Fuller, or the producers at Fox, seems to have changed the film to avoid trouble. According to Edward Gallafent, Robert Aldrich claims that “up to The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), drugs couldn’t be mentioned in American films” (245)—two years after Fuller’s Pickup on South Street.
Ironically, Pickup on South Street was distributed in France with significant changes soon after its 1953 release, even thought it was not remade until 1967—in South Africa. The French translation harked back to the plot of Taylor’s original script and substituted drug trafficking for the communist espionage in Fuller’s Pickup. According to Fuller, Georges Sadoul, whom Fuller claims was himself a communist, gave the film a negative review at the 1953 Venice Film Festival, seeing the film “as anticommunist propaganda” (304). In spite of the opinions of what Fuller calls “lefty critics” (304) the film won the Festival’s Bronze Lion (Fuller 305).
Fuller claims that what he calls the “hullabaloo” at the Venice Film Festival intimidated the film’s French distributor so much that “he retitled [the] movie as Le Port de la Drogue—Port of Drugs—changing the French-dubbed version so that, instead of microfilm destined for the communists, the pickpocket intercepts a drug shipment” (305). Fuller was outraged by the French distributor’s changes to his film, exclaiming in his autobiography, “France! Where I thought the artist’s work was revered, no matter his or her politics” (305). Although the film won a Bronze Lion at the 1953 Venice Film Festival, the president of the Venice Jury, Luchino Visconti, “opposed [Fuller’s] winning the prize because of his own Communist convictions” (Fuller 306). But the French distributor’s changes to both title and plot demonstrate that Pickup on South Street could be translated and remade without any reference to communists, communism, or communist espionage whatsoever—something Fox and Robert Webb chose not to do in 1967 South Africa.
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).
Verwoerd and Cape Town Affair
On September 6, 1966, Verwoerd was assassinated (South Africa 1975 60) and 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.
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