He is absolutely terrifying despite his diminutive size
– his mere presence indicates murder like an angel of death (review of The
Comedians by Harry Dansby)
Mokae entered films with the Afrikaans Donker Afrika then the sublime A World of Strangers, and then a menacing role in The Comedians.
Donker Afrika directed by David Millin in Afrikaans in
1957, based on a story by Michael McNeile. Millin was also
cinematographer. Mokae plays the sergeant (sersant), and is credited as Zahariah
Nokae (information from imdb.com). Al Debbo, a singer, actor and comedian,
stars and is quoted as saying this was his best film (info from
here). I can't find much on this film, in some sites it is called a comedy.
Any information is welcome.
In his programme biography for Fingernails Bright
as Flowers he translates the title in English- Darkest Africa.
Tremor / As die Aarde Skeur
Tremor directed by Denis Skully in 1961. The film
in English and Afrikaans (with Afrikaans title As Die Aarde Skeur). The
film is about the Coalbrook Mining Disaster (from the BFI website
here). The film features actress Marijke Mann who like Mokae would
then act in Dilemma. Any information on the film is welcome.
Dilemma, also called A World of Strangers directed by Henning Carlsen in 1962 based on
the novel by Nadine Gordimer.
There was no permission to make the film, so it
was filmed illegally, with hidden cameras on the streets of South
Africa. This gives a vivid realism to the photography in scenes such as
the people going to work in the morning.
The film makes use of amatuer actors. A white man
Toby Hood (Ivan Jackson in his only film) comes to South Africa to work at a local publisher.
He meets Steven Sitole (Zake Mokae) a black intellectual in an apartheid system.
A youthful Mokae gives one of his best performances, recognising the prejudice of people
around him, and intelligent enough to rise above it, but still
aware he can only go so far.
The stunning cinematography is by Henning
Kristiansen with Arne Lagercrantz as camera operator. Director
Henning Carlsen was also the editor. The music includes Triptych
by Max Roach.
On the DVD commentary Henning Carlsen says in
order to obtain permission to film they had a cover story of making an
industrial film about fridges. Film was sent by diplomatic courier
to Denmark for processing. Carlsen says Zakes Mokae visited him
in Denmark 27 years later and saw the film for the first time.
All images from the DVD of the film and the DVD
Legends of Fear
This title is listed in Mokae's biography in the programme
notes for Fingernails Blue as Flowers. It is listed alongside Darkest
Africa (Donker Afrika), Tremor and Darling. Any information is welcome.
Darling directed by John Schlesinger with Dirk Bogarde and Julie Christie.
1965. A story of love and betrayal which earned Julie Christie an Oscar.
The film is impressive but at over two hours does become predictable.
"Although Christie won an Oscar, her performance is surprisingly wooden, and
while Dirk Bogarde's heavy eyes capture Robert's dissatisfaction with life,
he ultimately seems just as bored by the film"(Ewan Davidson on BFI
Bogarde plays a tv arts presenter who meets and falls
in love with model Julie Christie, breaking up his marriage.
They become a happy couple.
But she falls for the temptation of Laurence Harvey
and his hedonistic lifestyle.
A party in Paris (actually Shepperton Studios)
starts conventionally with Zakes Mokae as one of the guests.
But the party turns into an orgy.
She realises what she has lost.
There is an attack on hypocrisy as a speaker talks of "the plight of our
brothers of every creed, race and colour" with the attendants looking on...
...and there is fine food and wine at a fundraiser for world hunger.
The film has some good imagery and composition, with cinematography by
The films was highly regarded on release, but opinions are now divided- "No
one need look further than Darling for a succinct guide to the reasons for the
rapid decline of the British 'New Wave' in the '60s... Schlesinger's direction
is a leaden rehash of ideas from Godard, Antonioni and Bergman, which
nonetheless contrives to remain firmly rooted in British theatre of the Royal
Court school. Excruciatingly embarrassing at the time, it now looks grotesquely
pretentious and pathetically out of touch with the realities of the life-styles
that it purports to represent." (Time Out, not dated, click
The Comedians directed by Peter Glenville with Richard
Burton and Elizabeth Taylor plus Alec Guinness, Lillian Gish, James Earl Jones.
1967. A too faithful adaptation of Graham Greene's novel (by Greene himself) and
an early Zakes Mokae role in voodoo films.
Mokae is convincing as a member of the Tonton Macout,
the hit squad of the ruling junta. In a famous scene, based on a true incident,
they steal the coffin at the funeral of a dissident. Mokae´s role has virtually
little dialogue (all in French), which fits the deep menace of his role, dark
glasses and expressionless.
An early scene shows the propaganda for dictator Papa Doc
The boat arrives in Haiti with passengers Smith, Brown
and Jones- Graham Greene deliberately chose the three commonest English names.
Brown (Richard Burton) is a hotel keeper who has lost his faith in humanity,
Smith and his wife are naive and Jones is bluff his way through life.
The cock fight is a symbol for the struggle between the dictatorship and
rebels, with the winning cock being decapitated in a voodoo ceremony, just as
the rebels sought a leader. In the dictatorship children are taken to view
Jones wanted to set up a crooked deal to supply arms to the government but
when it falls through he is on the run from the Ton Ton Macoute. Because
he had boasted of having military experience the rebels see him as a possible
leader but he has no experience.
Harry Dansby says "While the TonTons Macoute is about as amusing as
Hilter’s SS, I have to give credit to the late South African actor Zakes
Mokae (of “The Serpent and the Rainbow” fame) for creating an all time
great villainous screen presence in the role of the TonTons Macoute
killer “Michel”. He is absolutely terrifying despite his
diminutive size – his mere presence indicates murder like an angel of
death and it would be worth the time of any horror film fan to check
this out in spite of his relatively brief screen time." (from
The DVD also has an extra The Comedians in Africa, showing some filming in
Dahomey (standing in for Haiti) and the French Riviera. The film includes
some rare footage of author Graham Greene.
There is also a scene of curious and happy Dahomey people,
with the description of the film as "a story that deals strongly of this kind of
primitive people". This is for a film including Zakes Mokae and James Earl
Jones. The description had nothing to do with Greene and I suspect no-one
else connected with the film.
All images from the DVD of the film and DVD extras.
Fragment of Fear
Directed by Richard C. Sarafian in 1970, starring David Hemmings. A murder mystery
starting in Pompeii. Very boring and pretentious with a poor screenplay by Paul Dehn and mediocre
direction with many scenes too clearly set in a studio. There are
a few good film noir shots by director of photography Oswald Morris but
he cannot sustain it and most shots are predictable. Where is Zakes
Mokae? He is not in the credits, but I think he appears for
seconds an hour into the film leaving a club, though as his head is
turned it is hard to say.
The River Niger, directed by Krishna Shah, 1976. It
is based on the play by Joseph A. Walker which premiered at Brooks Atkinson
Theatre, NY in 1973. It was produced by the Negro Ensemble Company and ran
for 280 performances.
bad film, with poor to bad acting and a boring
script. The direction is plodding and cinematography is pretty basic.
The film has nothing to do with Africa, the title
refers to a very trite poem by the Johnnie (James Earl Jones).
Actually it is set in middle-class black America, with a
son returning from training with the USAF. But gangsterism
Cecily Tyson, playing wife Maddie, is the only person
There is some good music by War.
Mokae is credited as
"Dutch", but despite many viewings (pity me-
the film is so bad) I can't find him- any hints gratefully
Mokae and James Earl Jones would both appear in Roots The
Next Generation in 1976, and on stage in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones
All images from the film. Details of the play
from Internet Broadway Database here.