This film is held by the BFI (ID: 60582).


Dramatised advertising film for Lux toilet soap intended for African audiences.

The film opens with an African man sitting and playing guitar while two African women sit at his feet and sing in turn. The African man is next shown in his car driving and whistling the tune with one of the women alongside him. The man is distracted and doesn't see a road block up ahead. He loses control of the car as his hat gets stuck over his eyes. The car lurches into a field, then through a haystack while the woman tries to grab the steering wheel. The car continues to travel through a haystack - with a chicken now inside the car - and almost knocks a local man over as the car comes back onto a track. The car finally comes to a standstill by a railway junction. The man cannot re-start the car and as the train comes closer, he struggles to open the door, the starting handle bends, the car gets a flat tyre and one of the car doors falls off. He pushes the car to safety just in time but the car gathers momentum and moves off without him.

The next sequence shows a maid putting her young boy charge to bed. She sees a picture of two white film stars and the picture shifts to show her and her boyfriend. She goes into the bathroom and sees a packet of Lux soap on the basin. She unwraps it, rubs some on her face, and touches her skin while looking at herself in the mirror. In a shop she asks [in English] for a packet of Vim and some Lux toilet soap. The shopkeeper tells her that Lux is 'so purifying, 9 out of 10 film stars use it'. She returns to her own room, unwraps the soap, and washes her face. A car horn sounds outside. The man in the earlier scene is standing by his battered car, attempting to clean it. She goes out to meet him and he gives her a flower, which immediately droops. The car door falls on his toe. She gets in and he pushes the car. It sets off down a hill with him running behind. He manages to jump in and the couple are next seen sitting in the car watching two giraffes. The man gets out his guitar and plays to her as she sings. He touches her face and smiles. The next scene depicts the couple emerging from church having married. The bride, dressed in white, gives one of the bridesmaids a packet of Lux soap. The bridesmaid unwraps it and sniffs it, then touches her face. The film concludes with a close-up of the Lux soap bar surrounded with flowers, before the words 'The End' appear on the bar.

Note: The language of the song sung by the woman in the car is probably Matabele. The man speaks briefly in this scene but the language is dubbed. Neither language is identified, nor is the language of the song sung at the beginning.



In his book Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe, Timothy Burke considers the advertising strategies of Lux within Africa. Burke explains that from the early 1940s Lux was ‘pitched to African consumers as the definitional essence of glamour and “smart” – commercial codewords for the African elite’. ‘Lifebuoy and Sunlight worked off hygienic imagery linked to Christian morality, labour and domesticity’, he noted, ‘while Lux mined another vein of ideology about manners and bodies, the thread that dealt with “modern living” and “civilised fashion”’ (Burke, 1996, 156).

Initially advertisements for Lux within the African media used white models or female film stars ‘to define images of beauty for black women to follow’. These advertisements carried lines like ‘Lux Toilet Soap is pure, you can see that because it is white’ and were often reprinted from “white” newspapers like the Rhodesia Herald. By the 1960s skin lighteners were widely advertised in Rhodesia and aimed at ‘men and women who want a lighter, smoother skin’ (Burke, 1996, 156). The relationship between whiteness and cleanliness, and also whiteness and professional success permeated these advertisements.

Advertisements for Lux also emphasised the power that women could exercise through these beauty products. ‘Women were advised that they could use a given product to enhance their sexual control over men’, wrote Burke, ‘while appeals to male audiences often depicted a forlorn man who has been persistently rejected by women because he is not yet hygienic or “smart” in his use of commodities’ (Burke, 1996, 158). The claim that ‘nine out of ten’ film stars used Lux was first adopted in 1928 after the J. Walter Thompson agency sent cases of Lux soap to every Hollywood actress and director. Jane Gaines argued that the Lux campaign was ‘one of the earliest attempts to tie up a brand-name product with motion pictures on a national scale’ (Gaines, 1990, 40).

Mary’s Lucky Day was produced by Films of Africa, a company founded by James Blake Dalrymple with the assistance of his brother-in-law Dick Peel. Dalrymple, a Scottish director, who had produced during the 1930s a large number of educational and travel films with John Elder, emigrated to Rhodesia a few years after the War. Geoffrey Mangin described Dalrymple’s company Films of Africa as the ‘very first commercial producer’ in the Federation and explained that they ‘produced sound films to screen to the indigenous peoples; mainly productions sponsored by the Tea Bureau, Lever Bros and the cigarette manufacturers including some excellent advertising comedies with up and coming local black actors’. Mangin noted that ‘most were for 16mm mobile cinemas both in the townships and rural areas’ (Mangin, 1998, 31).

The work of Films of Africa did in some ways challenge that of the Central African Film Unit (CAFU). In 1953 Vernon Brelsford, a writer, administrator and supporter of CAFU criticised Dalrymple’s slapstick comedies, which he insisted ‘disrupt the instructional atmosphere of many film shows’. His comments followed a scathing attack on CAFU by Dalrymple, who wrote to the Prime Minister of the Federation earlier in the year insisting that ‘an instructional film need not be dull, but can be amusing and exciting’. He criticised what he perceived as the amateurish and lifeless qualities of the CAFU films, yet James Burns suggested that Dalrymple’s attitudes ‘were hardly more enlightened’. He argued that Dalrymple’s ‘own films for Africans used simple techniques, contained comically deceptive advertising promises, and are astonishing in their racist imagery’ (Burns, 2002, 146-147). He quotes Mary’s Lucky Day as an example of the ‘racism of Dalrymple’s oeuvre’, describing the film as a story ‘of an African domestic who, thanks to Lux soap – which makes her several shades lighter – snares a husband’ (Burns, 2002, 239).

The music within Mary’s Lucky Day was provided by De Black Evening Follies who were, according to Thomas Turino, ‘perhaps the most famous of all the “concert” ensembles’ within Rhodesia. They performed, with shifting personnel, between 1943 and the 1960s and at the time of this film were lead by Sonny Sondo, the singer, dancer and comedian (Turino, 2000, 130).



The final scene in Mary’s Lucky Day – in which Mary gets married – illustrates some of the traditional ideas of gender, beauty and race used within the Lux advertising campaigns. First, this narrative conclusion relies on the notion that this beauty product is a tool for sexual empowerment. Lux signifies a move from the ‘servile’ to the ‘civilised’ for Mary – she first uses the soap in the bathroom of the white woman she works for – and through this soap, she is able to attract a husband and move up in her social status. Secondly, this sequence shows marriage as the aspirational goal for women, with the soap as a means of achieving this. This is most blatantly revealed in the final sequence in which Mary presents her two bridesmaids with a bar of Lux soap. Thirdly, the marriage service itself – which contains a version of ‘Here Comes the Bride’ and features the bride in a white wedding dress – is represented as a western ideal of marriage and this is of particular significance when considering the processes of identification and the representation of race used within this film.

Mary’s Lucky Day promotes an ideal of whiteness. After the lengthy sequence in which Mary applies the soap, her skin is markedly lighter than before. Aligned with a popular rhetoric linking whiteness with success, and social status, the film implies that this literal ‘whitening’ can in turn bring marriage and social advancement. Furthermore, within the film Mary aspires to an image of whiteness. For example, in one shot – within the house owned by the white family where Mary works – Mary transfers the image of her and her prospective husband onto a framed image of Bob Hope and his glamorous co-star. Mary thus identifies and aspires to the glamour of the Hollywood stars. In the next scene, when Mary goes to buy some Lux soap, the shopkeeper relates the popular slogan – ‘used by nine out of ten film stars’. The film is extremely clear in showing how film stars are used to articulate images of whiteness – linked to beauty and success – and reveals the position this accords the black spectator.  

This process of identification is slightly different for those African audiences watching the film. Mary may identify with images of white glamour – the film stars, the domestic space, the wedding – which, the film suggests, can be acquired by using Lux soap, but for the film viewers, there is an additional layer of spectatorship here, which encourages them to identify with Mary and the African film stars on screen. The film contains an almost entirely African cast ­– with local dialogue and music by a popular Rhodesian group – and although the camera rather voyeuristically reveals Mary within the domestic space of her white employers, the white employers are not shown. The film thus represents and encourages identification with an African social class, influenced by white society, and with African film stars, who themselves identify with white stars.

Mary’s Lucky Day also reiterates the importance of cleanliness and hygiene in the social development of the Africans, a message often repeated in colonial discourse. The film is also instructive in the context of the popular debates over the filmic requirements for African audiences. Blake Dalrymple evidently favoured the popular over the instructional, and the style of the film – particularly in the initial lengthy driving sequence – indicates the oft-quoted preference of African audiences for slapstick comedy, and in particular, the early films of Chaplin.

Tom Rice (July 2008)


Works Cited

Burke, Timothy, Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1996).

Burns, J. M., Flickering Shadows: Cinema and Identity in Colonial Zimbabwe (Ohio: Ohio University Research in International Studies, 2002).

Gaines, Jane, ‘From Elephants to Lux Soap: The Programming and “Flow” of Early Motion Picture Exploitation’, The Velvet Light Trap, Number 25, Spring 1990, 29-43.

Mangin, Geoffrey, Filming Emerging Africa: A Pioneer Cinematographer’s Scrapbook – from the 1940s to the 1960s (February 1998).

Turino, Thomas, Nationalists, Cosmopolitans, and Popular Music in Zimbabwe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).




Technical Data

Running Time:
19 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
682 ft

Production Credits

Sound Recording
PEEL, Richard W.
Assistant Photographer
Assistant Photographer
cast member
cast member
MATE, Judith
cast member
Director of Photography
Director of Photography
De Black Evening Follies
Production Company
Films of Africa