This film is held by the BFI (ID: 10290).


In this comedy, introduced by 'The Professor', Hugh Cameron appears as an African explorer and filmmaker, who lectures to an audience and shows film that he shot in Africa.

Presented as a lecture, The Professor introduces the 'great hunter and daredevil who outdared all daredevils' before showing footage of their supposed trip to Africa. Inserting a comic commentary over stock footage, the film shows animal life and presents a grossly inaccurate map of Africa. The explorers encounter elephants, engage in ritual dances with 'cannibals', and then hunt a lion - or at least a man in a lion suit. The film concludes with the supposedly heroic explorer jumping on a chair when he spots a mouse.



Africa Shrieks, released early in 1931, was the first of a number of films that directly parodied the popular jungle travelogue Africa Speaks (1930). Indeed the director of Africa Shrieks, Roy Mack, and screenwriter Burnet Hershey were also responsible for Africa Speaks – English, a 1933 Vitaphone short, featuring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Other comic reworkings of Africa Speaks include two cartoons entitled Africa Squeaks – one from 1932 and a Looney Tunes production from 1940 – and a further cartoon, Africa Squawks from 1939. The setting and colonial narrative of Africa Speaks were again reworked in the Wheeler and Woolsey comedy, So This is Africa (1933), and the Abbott and Costello feature, Africa Screams (1949).

The Vitaphone shorts represent some of the earliest examples of sound films. Warner Bros. had acquired Vitaphone in 1925 and between 1926 and 1930 Warners and First National adopted Vitaphone’s pioneering process of sound-on-disk recording. By 1928 Vitaphone, as a subsidiary of Warners, was releasing four pictures a week, some of which (Vitaphone Presentations) recorded and presented opera and jazz stars, while others (Vitaphone Playlets) provided all-talking adaptations of theatrical pieces and original comedies. The third category, Vitaphone Varieties, were produced at two studios – in Hollywood and in Brooklyn – and thus offered both talking film stars and Broadway performers. In particular, the Vitaphone Varieties brought vaudeville performers such as Hugh Cameron to the screen, prompting Roy Liebman to argue that ‘Vitaphone was the place vaudeville went to “die”’ (Liebman, 2003, 5). However, Vitaphone’s productions of vaudeville acts also helped the smaller movie theatres to provide popular, diverse and affordable entertainment programmes, with Africa Shrieksappearing predominantly at regional theatres in, for example, Charleston, West Virginia; Madison, Wisconsin; Portsmouth, Ohio; and Reno, Nevada.

Africa Shrieks arrived in England in May 1931. Kinematograph Weekly dismissed the film as ‘a poor attempt at burlesque travelogue’ and stated that the film would play to ‘unsophisticated audiences only’ (KW, 28 May 1931, 34). Yet in America Variety suggested that the film ‘will hit on any program’, noting that ‘audiences that have seen the jungle pictures previously will recall the clips and satire enjoyably’ (Variety, 1 April 1931, 16). Africa Shrieks directly responded to the popularity of Africa Speaks and this would have been particularly significant in areas, such as Oleon, New York, where in January 1931 Africa Shrieks played in theatres while Africa Speaks was also playing on neighbouring screens (Oleon Herald, 24 January 1931, 7).



In Africa Shrieks the two explorers spot a group of Africans engaging in a ritual dance. The lecturer, reporting on their adventures, explains that 'No one had ever photographed these cannibals and we were determined to get this remarkable picture at the risk of our own lives.' The two men then nervously offer jewels and tobacco, before the very well-spoken African leader explains apologetically: 'I'm very sorry Sir but we had a better offer from the Acme Picture Corporation.' The voiceover then adds 'Disillusioned and disappointed, we left these mercenary savages.'

This single scene clearly illustrates the film’s satirical targets. First, it challenges the popular notion of Africa. Africa Shrieks was advertised as ‘a comedy trip through darkest Africa’ and the film uses the cultural stereotype of ‘darkest Africa’, popularised in films such as Africa Speaks, to generate its comedy (Oleon Herald, 24 January 1931, 7). The film exposes the notion of the African as a ‘savage’ cannibal by representing an intelligent and articulate African. In Africa Speaks - English, Roy Mack and Burnet Hershey’s 1933 Vitaphone short, the ‘cannibal leader’ is again an articulate man with a British accent, who explains that the explorers are not in danger because ‘on Fridays we only eat fish’. Both films rework a cultural stereotype, but the comedy generated by presenting an intelligent and articulate African clearly reveals the popular acceptance of the ‘savage’ African cannibal.

Secondly, this scene in Africa Shrieks exposes the popular exploitation of Africa on film. Africa Speaks was widely promoted as an educational picture, but Donald Crafton has argued that it ‘is fully in the exploitation mode’ (Crafton, 1999, 388). The film included a scene, depicted on some posters, in which a lion kills a local man. Africa Shrieks satirises the demand both to manufacture and voyeuristically exploit African life on film. The film intersperses stock footage of African wildlife with clearly staged studio sequences, which at one point features a man in a lion suit, as the cowardly explorers create an artificial Africa. When the explorers spot a creature, the voiceover announces that we ‘decided to take a shot at him… with a camera’. Yet, while the film may gently mock the desire on the part of filmmakers to exploit the popular interest in Africa, this is effectively what Africa Shrieks is, in itself, doing. Furthermore, at the time of Africa Shrieks’ release, Vitagraph were widely advertising their latest 12-part series, a jungle travelogue entitled Adventures in Africa.

Tom Rice (February 2008)


Works Cited

Bioscope, 13 May 1931, 31.

Crafton, Donald, The Talkies : American Cinema’s Transition to Sound, 1926-1931 (Berkeley; University of California Press, 1999).

Kinematograph Weekly, 28 March 1931, 34.

Liebman, Roy, Vitaphone Films : A Catalogue of the Features and Shorts (North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2003).

Oleon Herald, 24 January 1931, 7.

Variety, 1 April 1931, 16.



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
7 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
659 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
RAUH, Stanley
cast member
DuPAR, Edwin
Production Company
Vitaphone Corporation