This film is held by the BFI (ID: 34695).


Deals with the mission of an engineer who has to build a railway in the African jungles aftet two of his colleagues have gone missing.



Backed by Columbia since 1953, Irving Allen and Albert (Cubby) Broccoli’s Warwick Film Productions had already made seventeen feature films for the American studio when they released Killers of Kilimanjaro in November 1959. With a catalogue of colonial adventure films already behind them, Killers of Kilimanjaro was a continuation of the style, themes and format already found in previous potboilers such as Odongo (1956), Safari (1956), Zarak (1956) and The Bandit of Zhobe (1959). All their colonial adventures were shot in Technicolor and Cinemascope, and used American stars to lead the spectacle-driven action.  In this film the star, Robert Taylor, was directed by a fellow old-hand American, Richard Thorpe. Together they had made a series of costume adventures for MGM-British, including the international hits Ivanhoe (1952) and Knights of the Round Table (1953).

The supporting cast included Warwick contract star Anne Aubrey and Anthony Newley, a former child actor who had just launched a successful second career as a pop singer. Grégoire Aslan, Martin Benson and Martin Boddey had thankless roles as villains and black actors Orlando Martins, Earl Cameron and Harry Baird continued to take the only work then available as African thugs, chieftans and natives. The film introduced 16-year-old John Dimech as Pasha but his film acting career was minimal – the only other significant part he had was for David Lean in Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

The source of Killers of Kilimanjaro was ‘African Bush Adventures,’ a book celebrating the history of white explorers in East Africa during the late 19th Century.  Written in the early 1950s by J.A. Hunter and Dan P.Mannix, the book provided the loosest of historical facts for screenwriter John Gilling to hang his adventure story.  The Uganda Railway was constructed between 1896 and 1901 and linked Mombasa to Kisumu on Lake Victoria.  Killers of Kilimanjaro pays lip service to the planning of the rail line, but actual construction is left until after the final credits.

As it is set in the past, Killers of Kilimanjaro doesn’t address any of the contemporary issues facing Kenya and Tanganyika during the film’s shoot, but independence was on the horizon: In December 1961 Tanganyika became an independent state before joining the island state of Zanzibar to become the United Republic of Tanzania in April 1964.  Kenya declared independence in December 1963.  Only a Daily Telegraph report from September 1959 acknowledges any contemporary relevance of the film to its setting:  Thomas Marelle, chief of Tanganyika’s Chagga tribe whose people has participated in the making of the film, protested at the change of title from ‘Adamson of Africa’ to ‘Killers of Kilimanjaro’ (Daily Telegraph, 1 September 1959).

The film previewed at the Leicester Square theatre on 24 September 1959 and opened nationwide at the start of November.  The BFI holds few newspaper cuttings, suggesting that most critics didn’t review the film.  Those that did, opted for a matter-of-fact approach to what they saw as a Boy’s Own adventure, the Monthly Film Bulletin conceding that ‘anyone who has a conscience about Africa and takes the preposterous story seriously will be appalled, enthusiasts for screen slaughter should be amply entertained.’ The film played in West Germany, Austria, Denmark and Finland throughout late 1959 and 1960, opening in the US on 6 April 1960 where the reviews were equally accepting of the film’s narrative flaws but high entertainment value.  Broccoli separated from Allan not long after Warwick suffered financial losses on The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960).  He joined forces with Harry Saltzman to form Eon Productions and start the massively successful James Bond franchise. 



Described as a ‘Western manqué of unusually hectic pace and antique morals,’ Killers of Kilimajaro is unapologetic in its depiction of a Boy’s Own Paper African adventure (MFB, Vol. 26, 150). It presents Adamson, the American hero, with two enemies – the indigenous Warush tribe, on whose territory Adamson wants to construct his railway, and Arab slave trader, Ben Ahmed, and his cohorts, who want to build a rival rail system primarily for transporting slaves. Both races are depicted as unenlightened, merciless or plain greedy. 

As Sue Harper and Vincent Porter point out in their book, British Cinema of the 1950s, ‘although legally British, Warwick’s films often implied that the British themselves were inferior… to the Americans.’ Killers of Kilimanjaro is a typical Warwick film in this sense, showing the righteous, confident and able American star, Robert Taylor, as  leader among a rabble of (mainly British) character actors, or ‘willing stooges,’ as the Kine Weekly called them (Kinematograph Weekly, 1 October 1959, 23). As Hooky, comedian Anthony Newley is emasculated in a series of animal montages that pit him against charging rhinos and mischievous hippos. He regains some respect by saving the young boy Pasha during an ambush, but isn’t able to attract Jane Carlton played, rather stiffly, by Anne Aubrey. The remaining actors corroborate Harper and Porter’s assertion. Allan Cuthbertson, Martin Benson and Martin Boddey play either criminals or madmen; Guyana-born Harry Baird and Bermudian Earl Cameron – significant actors who’d recently starred in the BAFTA award-winning Sapphire (d. Basil Dearden, 1959) – are wasted as brainless heavies, and Grégoire Aslan narrowly avoids pantomime villain as the evil Arab trader. Nigerian actor Orlando Martins gained some stature as the powerful Warush chieftain, but in the extended sequence where Adamson has to win his respect, the film is cheerily superior in showing Adamson hoodwinking the primitive leader by using chloroform to perform a ‘miracle’ resurrection. The chief’s callous execution of the scaremongering witchdoctor invites the spectator to view the locals as naïve and brutal. 

The film had few qualms about depicting ethnicity as stereotype and mining colonial history for potboiler fodder. As The Hollywood Reporter noted, “Mixing of history and geography is acceptable when it serves dramatic purpose, but in Killers of Kilimanjaro it serves no purpose except to muddle what was originally a clean and straightforward story” (The Hollywood Reporter, 3 April 1959). The drama is episodic and, though coherent, absurd. The plotline is also untidy, ending with the safari’s arrival at Lake Victoria but omitting the fact that the train line remains as incomplete as it was at the start of the film. The critics conceded that narrative sophistication mattered less than the spectacle provided by the Technicolor and Cinemascope photography of the wild landscapes, ferocious battles and ubiquitous wildlife. As Variety put it, “Killers of Kilimanjaro doesn’t go beating around ‘the bush’ in search of a new dramatic path through Africa. It simply forges relentlessly down the same old cliché-infested trail travelled by so many past film safaris. Luckily, though, it’s stripped for action, an approach that’s never gone out of style at the box office.’ (Variety, 13 April 1960).

Dylan Cave (September 2010)


Works Cited

Burnup, Peter, ‘Killers of Kilimanjaro’ Review, The News of the World, 27 September 1959.

Harper, Sue & Porter, Vincent British Cinema of the 1950s, Oxford University Press, 2007.

Jarratt, Edward, ‘Adamson of Africa’ Warwick Productions press release, 1959.

Powers, James, ‘Killers of Kilimanjaro Familiar African Yarn,’ The Hollywood Reporter, v159 n34, 7 April1960, 3.

‘Chief Objects to Film’s Title,’ The Daily Telegraph, 1 September 1959.

Killers of Kilimanjaro’ Review, The Daily Cinema, n8210, 28 September 1959, 6.

Killers of Kilimanjaro’ Review, Kinematograph Weekly, n2713, 1/10/1959, p.23.

Killers of Kilimanjaro’ Review, Monthly Film Bulletin, v26 n310, Nov 1959, p.150.

Killers of Kilimanjaro’ Review, Variety, 13/4/1960.



  • ADAMSON OF AFRICA (Alternative)

Technical Data

Running Time:
91 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
8195 ft

Production Credits