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video series review by Chris Norton

Paul Robeson and Princess Kouka in Jericho.
(©1998 KINO ON VIDEO. All rights reserved.)

Of the four films released by KINO ON VIDEO as part of the "Paul Robeson Centennial Collection," Jericho (released as Dark Sands in the US) is the most complex and the most beautiful. Gaining from a large budget and location shooting in Northern Africa, the film realizes many of the goals Robeson set for his films. The film begins with an American troop transport bringing an all-black unit to France near the end of World War I. The ship is torpedoed by Germans and several men are caught below deck in the chaos. Jericho Jackson (played by Robeson) attempts to rescue them but is stopped by a white officer panic-stricken by the sinking ship. Jericho insists on rescuing the men and punches out the white officer, accidentally causing his death. At the inquiry into the accident, Jericho is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death despite the efforts of all his superior officers who plead for his life in light of his valiant efforts to save the trapped men. One of those superiors, Captain Mack (also a friend of Jericho's), allows him to come out of his cell and join in the Christmas celebrations on their base in Bordeaux, France. Jericho quickly escapes and steals a fishing boat, which he sails to Northern Africa. On board, he discovers a stow-away, a white army soldier who becomes Jericho's closest ally as they make a life in the desert. They eventually come to the attention of a sheik who is in need of medical treatment. Jericho, a trained medical man, heals the sheik's leg and becomes a trusted advisor and healer to the sheik. Eventually, he becomes the leader of the sheikdom on their annual trek for salt. Meanwhile, Captain Mack was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for abetting Jericho in his escape. Upon release, Mack vows to hunt down Jericho and bring him back to justice. He hunts all over the United States and Europe but to no avail. Finally, in a movie theater, Mack sees a documentary on the salt trek and recognizes Jericho as the leader. He flies to Africa to bring Jericho back but soon has a change of heart as he sees what Jericho means to his people, the good he has done there, and the family he has started. Jericho, surprised to hear of his friend's conviction, offers to return with him, but Mack forces him to remain with his new people.

Jericho is filled with awe-inspiring images of the desert and the salt caravan, both shot on location in Northern Africa. Robeson's physical presence is heightened here by the many scenes on horseback, the battle scenes with ambushing tribes, and the Moses-like quality of his leadership. Jericho Jackson is perhaps Robeson's greatest role. He is an intelligent, brave, self-sacrificing and honor-bound man. Robeson himself thought Jericho was his greatest role and he insisted on inserting the existing ending where Jericho remains to lead his people rather than the original ending that had Jericho return to face his punishment with Captain Mack.

In terms of black themes, Jericho is Robeson's most accomplished piece of this period. The film speaks of resistance to injustice by any means necessary, identification with Africa, and Pan-Arab unity--subjects that would not see celluloid again for many years. The ending of the film dismisses the traditional notion of the tragic Negro (the Othello ending); instead, it lets Jericho stand tall in his true innocence and allows him to continue the good he has brought his people. This release of Jericho has been restored with exquisite detail allowing its stunning imagery to fully compliment the genius that was Paul Robeson.

Intro Page

Body and Soul

Song of Freedom

Big Fella



"The Paul Robeson Centennial Collection" is a new four-cassette video series from KINO ON VIDEO. These videos include Body and Soul (1925), Song of Freedom (1936), Big Fella (1937), and Jericho (1937). Suggested retail price: $24.95 each. For more information, we suggest you check out the Kino Web site:

Chris Norton is an editor of Images who received his B.A. in English and Film Studies from Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan and an M.A. from New York University in the Department of Cinema Studies. He currently resides in Manhattan. Chris welcomes comments or questions about his review. You can reach him at


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