Mamba (Color Art Productions / Tiffany Productions, 1930) DIR: Albert S. Rogell. SCR: Winifred Dunn. John Reinhardt, Ferdinand Schumann-Heink (Story), Tom Miranda (dialogue and screenplay). CINEMATOGRAPHY: Charles P.Boyle. CAST: Jean Hersholt (August Bolte), Eleanor Boardman (Helen von Linden), Ralph Forbes (Karl von Reiden), Claude Flemming (Major Cromwell), Will Stanton (Cockney servant), Wilhelm von Brincken (Major von Schultz), Hazel Jones (Hassimís daughter), Arthur Stone (British soldier), Torben Meyer (German soldier. MUSIC: James C. Bradford and Adolph Tandler.

Mamba is The first all talking, all-color drama!  Considered lost for over 80 years!

This is probably its first screening in the United States since first release.

August Bolte (Hersholt), the richest man in a German settlement in German East Africa in the period before World War I, is called "Mamba" by the locals, which is the name of a deadly snake. Despised by the locals and the European settlers alike for his greed and arrogance, Bolte forces the beautiful daughter (Boardman) of a destitute nobleman to marry him in exchange for saving her father from ruin. Upon her arrival in Africa, she falls in love with an officer (Forbes) in the local German garrison. When World War I breaks out, Bolte, unable to avoid being conscripted, foments a rebellion among the local natives.

In the fall of 1929 Hollywood was not only a turmoil of sound but also color. Every studio of note was wiring for sound. To make a difference, the bigger players also wanted color in their productions, if only just short sequences. In September 1929 independent studio Tiffany Pictures embarked on what was to become their biggest project ever. Mamba - The first all talking dram filmed entirely in Technicolor. Tiffany had done short subjects in Technicolor before, but never an entire feature. Mamba was to become the sixth all color talkie ever made and the first that wasn't a musical.

The use of color throughout an entire full length talking picture was something completely new in 1929 and for such a small studio as Tiffany it was unheard of. Itís clear Tiffany decided to take a risk with hopes to become a bigger player in the Hollywood studio system. One should note that at this time only about a dozen Technicolor cameras were available in Hollywood altogether. The studios had to battle to use them and the schedules were tight. All color talkies was clearly the next big thing and Tiffany decided to go all in right from the start. They were even planning to take technology a step further and shoot it in 3D according to an article in the Film Daily published Nov 12, 1929.

Partially filmed at the Universal lot, the production was cubersome and kept running out of money. In order to fool the creditors, the production kept two sets of identical costumes available so that the cast and crew could keep working in case one set was confiscated. Production cost landed at about $500,000 which was an enormous amount for Tiffany, a studio that was used to make movies at a fifth of this cost.


Director Albert S. Rogellís specialty was tight action dramas and westerns,† this made him well suited for the task. The main characters were played by Danish character actor Jean Hersholt (Greed 1924), Eleanor Boardman (The Crowd 1928) and British born Ralph Forbes who did many supporting roles at MGM both before and after Mamba. The sets and camera work were elaborate, editing very fluid and surprisingly modern. Tiffany had their connections to MGM and it showed.

Mamba opened March 10, 1930 to great reviews at the Gaiety Theatre in New York. It broke the box office record and ran for over two weeks. With the demise of Tiffany Pictures in 1932 Mamba quickly disappeared into oblivion for almost 80 years. Its fate wasn't helped by the fact that most of Tiffany's original nitrate prints were cleared out and destroyed well before 1940.

Mamba was considered lost until early 2009 when Australian film preservationist and historian Paul Brennan found a complete nitrate print of Mamba in a film collection  located in a remote area in Australia. All nine reels were in great shape. Sadly only four of the nine soundtrack records were to be found in Australia. Brennan managed to get copies of the film elements and the remaining sound disks and sent them to early talkie and sound specialist Jonas Nordin in Stockholm, Sweden who then synchronized the sound with the images. With a kind contribution from Todd Weiner and Bob Gitt at the UCLA Film and TV archives the complete soundtrack could later be added to the film, making Mamba complete in 2011. Mamba is a truly astonishing find because of the Tiffany Studio rarity and the sensational quality of the production. Also it represents the best technical qualities of the period, quite a gamble for such a small studio and its attempt to become a major player.

The print of Mamba shown at Cinefest is a work in progress, it is more or less an untouched copy made from the nitrate original and the original Tiffany Tone records. Since no restoration work has been done there are minor imperfections both in sound and visuals.  

 

(Jonas Nordin)