Director Lawrence Huntington collaborated with producer Harry Alan Towers, noted cinematographer and director-to-be Nicolas Roeg and Kevin Kavanagh on the incident-packed screenplay for Death Drums Along The River, a very free adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s Sanders of the River.
The setting is contemporary Africa, where Inspector Sanders (Richard Todd) follows up the murder of a policeman and discovers diamonds are being smuggled through the docks and that there may be a link with the up-river hospital run by Doctor Schneider (Walter Rilla). Sanders escorts Doctor Inge Jung (Marianne Koch) to Schneider’s hospital, where she is about to take up an appointment.
They finally reach their destination in spite of the sabotage of their boat, and Sanders – who finds Schneider has collapsed – sets about solving the diamond-smuggling mystery. There is no shortage of suspects, among them Schneider’s deputy Dr Weiss (Albert Lieven), nurse Marlene (Vivi Bach), American mining engineer Hunter (Robert Arden) – who is masquerading as a journalist – and trader Pearson (Bill Brewer), who is on anything but good terms with Sanders. Sanders finally succeeds in unravelling the mystery and the villain of the piece ends up perishing in the jaws of a passing crocodile.
The film boasts muscular, straightforward direction by Huntington and benefits greatly from filming in South Africa. Among the colourful locations was a wetland of swamps and lakes bisected by the St Lucia River. The area was snake-ridden and, said Todd, “we soon learned not to wander off the tracks except in single file. Marianne (Koch), married to a Munich doctor and herself a qualified doctor, was provided with anti-snakebite serum and acted as a voluntary medical orderly for the unit”.
UK / 1963
Director: Lawrence Huntington
Writers: Harry Alan Towers, Nicolas Roeg, Kevin Kavanagh, Lawrence Huntington, from the novel Sanders of the River by Edgar Wallace
Cast: Richard Todd, Marianne Koch, Albert Lieven, Vivi Bach, Walter Rilla, Jeremy Lloyd