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Film / West of Zanzibar

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The outpost was chronically short on deodorant.

West of Zanzibar is a 1928 silent film starring the Man of a Thousand Faces, Lon Chaney.

Here, Chaney plays Phroso, a stage magician, whose wife Anna has fallen in love with another man, Crane (Lionel Barrymore). When Crane tells Phroso that Anna is going away with him, they fight, and Phroso falls from a second-floor walkway and is paralyzed. Shortly thereafter Anna returns and promptly dies, leaving behind an infant daughter that Phroso takes possession of, planning to use her in his revenge. Many years later, Phroso establishes himself as the leader of an African tribe in the Congo's ivory country, where Crane is now working as an ivory trader. Phroso steals Crane's ivory, not because he cares about ivory, but to lure Crane to him so he can take revenge.

West of Zanzibar was directed by Tod Browning, who later achieved fame as the director of the origional Bela Lugosi Dracula. It was an adaptation of a stage play called Kongo, and was remade in 1932 as the talking film Kongo.


  • The Alcoholic: It's not clear quite how long Maizie is held captive in Phroso's compound, but by the time Crane arrives, she is a jittering wreck of an alcoholic. A scene early in the film indicates that she apparently already had a drinking problem that she was attempting to quit.
  • Best Served Cold: Phroso's revenge plot involves waiting until Crane's lost daughter Maizie has reached adulthood, and bringing her into debauchery and alcoholism before presenting her to Crane as a ruined woman. The plan goes awry.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Phroso's big magic trick, shown in the opening scene—putting his wife in a coffin, only to flip around the false bottom and reveal a skeleton—comes in handy at the end, when he uses it to facilitate Maizie's escape.
  • The Chessmaster: Phroso manipulates almost every single character in the film as pawns in his grand revenge plan.
  • Darkest Africa: Played to the hilt—jungles, alligators, voodoo, and savage cannibal tribes.
  • Death by Despair: No explanation is given for why Anna keels over dead in the church, leaving Maizie in Phroso's clutches.
  • Evil Cripple: Phroso, who uses a wheelchair but also crawls around like a snake.
  • Evil Slinks: Lon Chaney plays Phroso, who is paralyzed from the waist down. Sometimes he uses a wheelchair, but at other times he slithers around like a snake.
  • Heel Realization: Phroso has this when he finds out that Maizie isn't Crane's daughter, she's his.
  • Hollywood Natives: The East Africans, who wear grass skirts or short pants, decorate their dark skins with white facepaint, and speak in pidgin You No Take Candle English.
    Bumbu: "Me do like you say. Me tell white trader you steal ivory. Three days he be here."
  • Human Sacrifice: Phroso's tribe practices a form of human sacrifice in which, after a man dies, his female relations (wife, daughters) are sacrificed along with him. This becomes important when Crane, whom the tribe believes to be Maizie's father, dies.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Phroso assumes that Maizie is Crane's daughter. She isn't.
  • Mighty Whitey: A few magic tricks are all Phroso needs to gain leadership of the local cannibal tribe.
  • Revealing Hug: Anna's troubled look when Phroso embraces her from behind tells everything about the state of their marriage.
  • Revenge Through Corruption: Raising your enemy's daughter to be an alcoholic prostitute is certainly one way to go about it.
  • Title Drop: A title card reveals that Phroso is camped somewhere west of Zanzibar.
  • Your Son All Along: Phroso spends years plotting to victimize poor Maizie, turning her into an alcoholic prostitute, only to discover that she's actually his daughter.