Tamango (1958): John Berry’s Interracial Romance Aboard Slave Ship, Starring Curt Jurgens and Dorothy Dandridge

Based on the short story by the French writer Propser Merimee, first published in 1829, Tamango was helmed by blacklisted director, John Berry.

Poster of the movie Tamango.jpg

American version of Tamango poster

An international production (French-Italian), it stars German actor Curt Jurgens (best known for the remake of The Blue Angel) and Oscar nominee Dorothy Dandridge (Preminger’s Carmen Jones).

Jurgens plays Captain Reiker, a Dutch sea captain who sets off on his last slave-ship voyage. After capturing slaves with the complicity of an African chief (Habib Benglia), he heads to Cuba.

Along with the slaves, the passengers include his mistress, the slave Aiché (Dorothy Dandridge), and the ship’s Doctor Corot (Jean Servais).

Tamango (Alex Cressan), one of the captured men, plans a revolt and tries to persuade Aiché to join him. When the slaves do rebel, Tamango takes Aiché hostage.

A deadlock between the two camps motivates Captain Renker to declare that he will fire a cannon into the ships’ hold and kill all the slaves.  Aiché is given a chance to leave by Tamango but she chooses to stay with her fellow slaves. The captain then shoots the cannon, which silences the slaves’ songs.

Tamango was banned because it broke the race-mixing norm (“miscegenation”), stipulated in the Production Code in its depiction of interracial romance.

Though the project was shot in Nice, France banned Tamango in its West African colonies for fear of causing dissent among the natives.

The film was released in 1959 in NYC and a few other cities (a full year after its European distribution), and received a nationwide release as late as 1962.


Directed by John Berry
Written by Prosper Mérimée, John Berry, Lee Gold, Tamara Hovey, Georges Neveux (dialogue)

Cinematography Edmond Séchan
Edited by Roger Dwyre
Music by Joseph Kosma
Distributed by CEI Incom

Release dates: January 24, 1958 (France); Sept 16, 1959 (US release date)

Running time: 98 minutes


I am grateful to TCM for showing a series of films about slavery on July 25, 2018.