The Cape Town Affair (1967)

AKA: Escape Route Cape Town
Country: South Africa
Director: Robert D. Webb
Starring: James Brolin, Claire Trevor, Jacqueline Bisset, Bob Courtney, John Whiteley, Gordon Mulholland
Music: Bob Adams, Joe Kentridge

The Cape Town Affair doesn’t have much to recommend it. It is virtually a scene for scene remake of Samuel Fuller’s Pickup On South Street, the primary differences being, the former was filmed in colour and is set in South Africa. James Brolin takes on Richard Widmark’s role as Skip McCoy, while Jacqueline Bisset plays Candy. And Claire Trevor puts in a good performance playing Thelma Ritter’s Academy award winning role as Sam Williams.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the plot. While on a bus, McCoy, a professional pickpocket, lifts the purse from Candy’s handbag. Unbeknownst to Skip the purse contains a microfilm. Candy was a courier delivering the microfilm to the Communists. Of course, everybody wants the film back and will do almost anything to get it. But Skip is loyal to no-one. Once he works out what he has obtained he is willing to sell it to the highest bidder.

With the exception of Claire Trevor, the main cast are pretty weak. Brolin doesn’t have that underlying cruel streak that Richard Widmark possessed, and that is so important when playing a character like McCoy who rejects all authority. Bisset doesn’t fair too much better.

The major failing of this film is that it does not possess the same tension, or rich characterisations as Pickup – which is hardly surprising because Pickup is regarded as a classic these days. In Capetown’s favour though, is that it is an interesting snapshot of mid-to-late sixties South Africa – a location that was not featured in many films due to political reasons. During McCoy’s interrogation scenes, an photo of Hendrik Verwoerd can be seen on the wall. Verwoed, of course, was the President of South Africa from 1958-66, and was the man behind the implementation of the apartheid policy.

Apartheid is no longer a part of the South African political landscape – it’s history – similarly, The Capetown Affair has passed into public domain. If you want to watch it, it shouldn’t cost you more than a pack of shoelaces. But do not watch it at the expense of Pickup. Watch Fuller’s classic first, then if you feel you need more – another retelling – then maybe, and that’s a big maybe, seek out The Capetown Affair.

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