West of Zanzibar (1928 film)

West of Zanzibar is a 1928 American silent film directed by Tod Browning. The screenplay concerns the vengefulness of a cuckolded magician (Lon Chaney) paralyzed in a brawl with his rival (Lionel Barrymore). The supporting cast includes Mary Nolan and Warner Baxter. The picture is based on a 1926 Broadway play called Kongo[1] starring Walter Huston. Huston starred in the 1932 talkie film adaptation of the same story using the Kongo title. West of Zanzibar is also famous with horror film fans for having lost or excised sequences that Browning filmed; in particular, Phroso (Chaney) as a duckman in a sideshow act and scenes showing Phroso and his troupe when they first arrive in Africa.

West of Zanzibar
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTod Browning
Produced byTod Browning
Written byChester De Vonde (play)
Elliott J. Clawson
StarringLon Chaney
Lionel Barrymore
Mary Nolan
Warner Baxter
CinematographyPercy Hilburn (*French)
Edited byHarry Reynolds
Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
Distributed byMGM
Jury-Metro-Goldwyn (England)
Release date
  • November 24, 1928 (1928-11-24)
Running time
65 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent film (English intertitles)


Anna (Jacqueline Gadsden) cannot bring herself to tell her professional magician husband, Phroso (Lon Chaney), that she is leaving him. Her lover, Crane (Lionel Barrymore), informs Phroso that he is taking Anna to Africa, shoving the distraught husband away so forcefully that he falls over a railing and is crippled, losing the use of his legs. After a year, Phroso learns that Anna has returned. He finds his wife dead in a church, with a baby beside her. He swears to avenge himself on both Crane and the child.

Eighteen years later, Phroso rules a small outpost inhabited by Doc (Warner Baxter), Babe (Kalla Pasha), Tiny (Tiny Ward) and native Bumbu (Curtis Nero) in the African jungle. Through his magic tricks, he dominates the local tribe. He has his men steal ivory repeatedly from Crane by having Tiny dress up as an evil voodoo spirit to frighten away Crane's porters. Meanwhile, Phroso sends Babe to bring back blonde Maizie (Mary Nolan) from the "lowest dive in Zanzibar", where Phroso has had her raised. She is told only that she will finally meet her father.

When she arrives, Phroso denies being Maisie's father (to her great relief), but refuses to tell her why she has been brought there and treats her with undisguised hatred. The first night, she witnesses a gruesome tribal custom: when a man dies, his wife or daughter is burned alive on his funeral pyre. As the days go by, Maizie gradually wins the perpetually drunk Doc's heart. However, Phroso turns her into an alcoholic.

Phroso sends word to Crane where he can find the robber of his ivory. When Crane shows up, Phroso tells Crane that Maizie is his daughter. To Phroso's surprise, Crane breaks out in laughter. He informs Phroso that Anna never went with him because she hated him for paralyzing her husband. Maizie is actually Phroso's child. Before he can absorb the news, the next step of his plan unfolds; the natives shoot and kill Crane.

Phroso uses a magic trick to try to save Maisie from being burned alive. With the natives watching, he puts her in a wooden box with a secret exit and closes it. When he reopens it, there is a skeleton inside. Meanwhile, Doc, Maizie and the others flee by boat. However, the natives do not believe Phroso's claim that an evil spirit has taken Maizie. The screen fades to black as the natives close in on Phroso. Later, a native fishes a medallion out of a bonfire, the same medallion that had hung around Phroso's neck.



The motion picture trade journal Harrison's Reports warned its readers, "If you run West of Zanzibar, you will run it at the peril of alienating many of your regular customers."[1] Despite this, the film proved to be a success, both domestically and internationally, although it had censorship problems in the British colony of Tanganyika for its portrayal of Africa.[1] After the film's premiere, another trade journal, Motion Picture News, advised "If you do not have a Standing Room Only sign in your theatre ... you had better order one immediately before playing this picture."[2]

In a much more recent review, Dennis Schwartz described it as a "strangely curious relic", but praised the "virtuoso performance of Chaney".[3]


  1. Brian Darr. "West of Zanzibar (1928)". San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
  2. Dennis Harvey. "West of Zanzibar". San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
  3. Dennis Schwartz. "West of Zanzibar". Ozus' World Movie Reviews.
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