Something of Value (1957): Richard Brooks Tale of Kenya Uprising, Starring Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier

Known for his liberal politics, filmmaker Richard Brooks wrote and directed Something of Value, a controversial movie about colonialism, based on the book of the same name by Robert Ruark.

The movie co-starred Rock Hudson, already a bona fide star after Giant, and Sidney Poitier just before he became a major star after the 1958 The Defiant Ones, which earned him his first Best Actor Oscar nomination.

Centering on the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, it shows the colonial and native African conflict caused by colonialism and differing views on how life should be lived.

Kikuyu tribal members work on Henry McKenzie’s farm in 1940s Kenya. Two young men, Kenyan native Kimani (Poitier) and Henry’s son Peter (Hudson), have grown up together, almost like brothers.

Prejudices surface when Peter’s brother-in-law Jeff Newton slaps the face of Kimani after the latter’s request to use a rifle. Kimani leaves the farm, but he is carried back by Peter after having caught his foot in a trap.

Mau Mau tribesmen plot an insurrection as Kenya’s tensions rise. Kimani, who sides with them, is asked to steal a supply of rifles as a test. Kimani impregnates the daughter of a Mau Mau tribal elder. He parts ways with Peter, who has become a safari leader to help raise money for a farm for him and his fiancee Holly Keith (Dana Wynter) who arrives there.

A raid on the farm results in the murders of Newton and his children. British forces retaliate by bombing a Mau Mau encampment, taking tribesmen as prisoners and torturing them.

Peter wants to continue his life in Africa, but troubles worsen when Holly must fight off Mau Mau warriors. Henry hastily gets her and Newton’s wife to safety in Nairobi.

Peter goes looking for Kimani, who has been identified as the leader of the Mau Mau raiding party that had killed his brother-in-law and Newton’s children.

In the last, powerful sequence, Peter and Kimani fight to the bitter end, with Kimani holding a gn on one hand and his baby boy on another, after his wife is brutally killed in the attack.

Peter begs Kimani to stop fighting and come back with him–“let’s start over” he says–but Kimani believes it’s “too late” and while fighting Peter mano a mano, he accidentally falls into a pit of bamboo spikes and dies. Peter holdig Kimani’s baby vows to raise him with Holly.

The picture ends with an epilogue, a statement from Winston Churchill: “The problems of East Africa are the problems of the world.”  The initial print included a prologue from Churchill, but the studio executives deleted it when it tested poorly with audiences.

The movie was a commercial disappointment when first released, but over the years, due the popularity of  both Hudson and Poitier, it has acquired a loyal following and is occasionally shown on TV.

Without advocating the terrorism of this movement, the script is too literal, careful in detailing the ongoing tensions and frustrations, which force men like Kimani to take arms against their white brethren.

Some theatres in the South, fearing the effects of the racial issues, refused to book this provocative, often brutal film.

The film was later reissued under the title Africa Ablaze.

Cast

Rock Hudson as Henry’s Son, Peter

Dana Wynter as Peter’s fiancee, Holly

Sidney Poitier as Kimani Wa Karanja

Wendy Hiller as Henry’s Daughter, Elizabeth

Juano Hernández as Njogu, Oath Giver

William Marshall as Leader, Intellectual in Suit

Robert Beatty as Elizabeth’s Husband, Jeff Newton

Walter Fitzgerald as Henry McKenzie

Michael Pate as Joe Matson

Ivan Dixon as Lathela, Loyal Gun-Bearer

Ken Renard as Karanja, Father of Kimani

Samadu Jackson as Witch Doctor

Frederick O’Neal as Adam Marenga, Mau-Mau Leader