Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mogambo (1953) * * *

MOGAMBO is set in Africa and focuses on the safari and animal export business of Victor Marswell (Clark Gable). The hardworking big game hunter has never married and runs a business in Kenya procuring wild animals for zoos and circuses with two white employees and a large group of Africans. His employees, who both play important roles in the film, are the cultured John Brown-Pryce (Philip Stainton) known as "Brownie" and Leon Bolchak (Eric Pohlmann).

Eloise Y. "Honey Bear" Kelly (Ava Gardner) arrives at a remote African outpost looking for a rich maharajah acquaintance, who unfortunately had left a week before she arrived. She is a jet setting woman of the world, independent and feisty. While waiting for the next river boat out, she toys with Marswell, who initially has no respect for her. There is an immediate attraction between her and Marswell despite their verbal sparring. When the river boat returns it brings with it Linda Nordley (Grace Kelly) and her husband Donald Nordley (Donald Sinden), an anthropologist who has paid Marswell to take them on safari. They wish to see the mountain gorillas, but as this involves a long and arduous journey through tsetse fly country, Marswell is not keen. He changes his mind after finding himself attracted to the prim, proper but very attractive Mrs. Nordley, basically a blonde twit. He decides to take them on safari in order to continue his relationship with Mrs. Nordley, who seems to return his affections.

Honey Bear Kelly: Look, Buster, don't you get overstimulated with me!

Kelly departs on a river steamer. Later that day Mr. Nordley is taken ill with a reaction to his Tse tse fly inoculations. Later that night Kelly returns in a row boat after the river steamer has run aground farther down river. There is some friction between Kelly and Mrs. Nordley while her husband recovers after Kelly witnesses Mrs. Nordley and Marswell together. Soon we are in the middle of a love quadrangle.

After Donald Nordley has recovered, Marswell agrees to go up into the gorilla country, taking Kelly halfway to join the District Commissioner and travel back by that route. However, when they get there, they find the commissioner badly wounded by natives who have recently become belligerent. With armed reinforcements days away, the small party is barely able to escape, taking the mortally wounded commissioner with them. Honey Bear Kelly is forced to continue with the Nordleys and Marswell.

A serious romance is developing between Marswell and Mrs. Nordley, and everyone in the party is aware except Mr. Nordley. The situation is so bad that it is leading to clashes between Mr. Nordley and other members of the group. Kelly tries to warn Mrs. Nordley of Marswell's character but is rebuffed. Marswell sets up to photograph and capture gorillas with Nordley, and tries to tell Nordley about the affair with his wife, but a charging bull gorilla cuts him off and he has to shoot the beast.

Having killed the leader of the gorillas, Marswell is depressed and that night in camp begins a drinking bout in his tent. Then Honey Bear Kelly shows up and throws herself across his lap and asks for a drink too. She and Marswell are drowning their sorrows as friends, and their drinking leads to some light-hearted kissing and caressing, at which point Mrs. Nordley appears. Marswell's dismissive remarks on her infatuation with him as "the White Hunter" enrages her, and she takes Marswell's pistol and shoots him as he tries to flee the tent, wounding him in the right arm. When the rest of the camp shows up, Kelly explains that Marswell has been making advances at Mrs. Nordley for some time, and now having done so in a drunken state, has forced her to shoot him as a last resort. Everyone laughs and goes off, with Mr. Nordley saying that Marswell is lucky his wife did the shooting, since he would have done the deed himself more effectively. This episode resolves the tension between Kelly and Mrs. Nordley, ends the relationship between Mrs. Nordley and Marswell, and finally ends the estrangement of Mrs. Nordley from her husband. Also, this dramatic scene clears the air without ever allowing the cuckolded husband, Donald Nordley, to know what was really going on.

Honey Bear Kelly: Let me jump to my own conclusions.
Victor Marswell: I make my contribution to this mixed-up community they call the world.
Honey Bear Kelly: This is no Sir Galahad who loves from afar. This is a two-legged boa constrictor. The only lions I ever want to see again are the two in front of the public library.
Victor Marswell: Sometimes it (alcohol) gets you nasty enough to get a nasty job done.
Honey Bear Kelly: You and nobody else is gonna wring me out and hang me up to dry again.
Linda Nordley: Doesn't a woman's reputation count for anything here?
Victor Marswell: Only if I'm pesonally interested.

The next day, the party decamps, leaving Marswell behind to try to capture some young gorillas to pay for the safari. Marswell is able to bring himself to make a proposal of marriage to Kelly but she now rebuffs him. As the canoes are pulling away down the river, she watches him stand on the bank and she jumps in the river and part swims and part wades back to him. The two embrace and the movie ends.

MOGAMBO is a remake of the 1932 classic RED DUST, based on Wilson Collison's 1928 Broadway play "Red Dust". The "devilishly handsome" Clark Gable reprises his role of a rubber plantation owner, this time playing a big game hunter. He is Dennis Carson in RED DUST but named Victor Marswell in the remake. Gable was in his early 50s but still looks svelte and youthful, and his performance is amazing. Playing the same character 20 years later, he uses his maturity and experience to flesh out the role to a greater extent than before. In RED DUST Gable is great, but in MOGAMBO he is positively magnificent. Some think Gable was too old for this movie, but that doesn't take into account the durable movie-star appeal of the "King of Hollywood". He certainly looks every inch the Hemingwayesque hunter, and it's easy to imagine Gardner and Kelly attracted to him. In fact, he and Grace Kelly had an offscreen affair during shooting. It's a thought provoking movie about sophisticated people and mature love.

It was filmed on location in Okalataka, French Congo; Mount Kenya, Thika, Kenya, where you can see Mt. Longonot, Lake Naivasha both in the Kenyan Rift Valley and Fourteen Falls near Thika as backdrops; Kagera River, Tanganyika; Isoila, Uganda; and at the MGM British Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England, UK. The film offers some of the best wildlife shots taken of the African continent at the time. However, there were never Gorillas in Kenya so the locations are an odd mix from a naturalist perspective. Mogambo translates as "passion" in Swahili.

The movie is very enjoyable with a good screenplay that has lots of great one liners and verbal barbs between all three of the leads. But action sequences have not aged well with the gorillas obviously being nowhere near the cast. Light levels and plants are completely different between the shots of the gorillas and the shots of the actors, who are supposedly scared of them. The only thing that appears in the same frame as one of the actors is a dead gorilla. Frankly, it looks like they brought in Ed Wood to edit the mismatched gorilla scenes, but some of the other animals such as the big cats do appear to be in the same place at the same time.

As expected, Clark Gable plays the macho romantic lead in this film. There are two female leads in the film, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, both vying for Gable's attention. They were both nominated for Academy awards for their performances and Grace Kelly won the supporting actress Golden Globe. The music is all performed by local native tribes, except for Gardner accompanied by a player piano singing "Comin Thro the Rye", and the film records a traditional Africa that has long since passed. For these sequences alone the film is worth watching. The interplay among the main characters as well as the supporting cast is very amusing. Settings and cinematography are first rate. The satisfying conclusion ties up the plot into a neat little package, but you don't see the ending coming until the last minute.

An interesting anecdote about the on location shooting of the film concerns Frank Sinatra's enormous endowment, one of the biggest in Hollywood. Ava Gardner's third and last marriage (1951-1957) was to the famous singer and actor. While filming in Africa for MOGAMBO, a group of natives showed Ava Gardner their impressive endowments. Ava kept commenting, "Nope...not as big as Frank's."

The cast also includes Laurence Naismith (skipper), Denis O'Dea (Father Josef), and Asa Etula (young native girl). John Lee Mahin wrote the screenplay from Wilson Collison's stage play. John Ford directed.

On DVD the video quality is surprisingly good for a film of this age. It is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio non-16x9 enhanced which is probably the original aspect ratio, or it may have been the academy ratio of 1.37:1. The picture is reasonably clear and sharp throughout, with no evidence of low level noise. As is normal with films of this vintage, close-ups of the leads are quite soft. There is grain noticeable throughout. It is mostly light, but gets heavier in some scenes, especially where foreground characters are superimposed on location backgrounds, which happens quite often. The color is excellent throughout with some minor color bleeding from candles and the like. There are significant film artefacts present during this movie, mostly small black specks and lines. Generally they are not too bad, but are more noticeable in some scenes. A complete restoration is needed. There are subtitles available in 7 languages, plus English and Italian for the hearing impaired. The English ones are clear, easy to read and close to the spoken word. The layer change occurs at 73:17 minutes and includes an obvious pause.

RED DUST (1932) is an American romantic drama film scripted by Donald Ogden Stewart and directed by Victor Fleming, the second of six movies Clark Gable and Jean Harlow made together. One of the film's slogans proclaimed: "He treated her rough--and she loved it!" It was produced during the Pre-Code era of Hollywood.

Conditions are spartan on sweaty roughneck Dennis "Denny" Carson's (Clark Gable) Indochina rubber plantation during a dusty dry monsoon. The latest boat upriver brings Carson an unwelcome guest: Vantine (Jean Harlow), an earthy, sexy, wise-cracking, platinum blonde prostitute fleeing from Indo-Chinese police in Saigon. Stranded on the plantation of unshaven Carson after her steamship breaks down, she says, "Don't mind me, boys. I'm just restless...Guess I'm not used to sleeping nights anyway." Carson must let her stay until the next boat arrives, and he is initially uninterested but soon succumbs to Vantine's charms. In many scenes, there is tremendous sexual chemistry between them: when they get to know each other, while discussing each other's cheese preferences, and when he impulsively pulls her into his lap and tells her, "You talk too much but you're a cute little trick at that. Why haven't you been around before?"

She attempts to seduce him, asking: "Denny, have you got a headache?...Would you like me to rub your forehead?...Well, could I get you a drink of something, uh?" Rejected by him, she replies, "Well, let's forget about the drink. I'll just rub your forehead with sandpaper." The most memorable scene is her infamous naked rain barrel bath scene, while Carson stands by and watches her, ignoring her wishes. Vantine says, "Gee, can't a girl take a bath in privacy?" and orders, "Hey, Denny, scrub my back."

Then Gary Willis (Gene Raymond), ill with malaria, and his stunning wife Barbara "Babs" Willis (Mary Astor) show up. Near the beginning of the film, Carson watches Babs undress into her nightgown through a bedroom window. He ends up talking to her and says, "My room is that front one off the porch if you should want me during the night." Sexual rivalry emerges in a love triangle when Carson falls in love with the refined, well-bred Babs. He kisses her for the first time after rescuing her in his arms from a rain-drenching storm. The scene is set up in a way that it appears very adulterous to the viewer. At the conclusion of the film, after Babs shoots Carson in a jilted rage, Vantine performs a surgical operation on him to clean up his bullet wound. While recuperating and bed-ridden from the gunshot wound, Vantine sits by Carson on his bed, reading from a newspaper with exaggerated baby talk about a rabbit that goes hippity-hop, hippity-hop--as he's "hippity-hoppity-ing" his hand up her leg by making little walking motions with his fingers up her thigh as he moves his hand up her leg. While reading, she asks herself a sexually-disguised question, "A chipmunk and a rabbit. Hey, I wonder how this comes out?"

The entire film was shot on an MGM sound stage, a fabricated Indochinese landscape complete with working river. Live moths were released before every take, and the indoor rain storms created a rather foul smelling jungle. The hot lights vaporized the water creating waves of steam on clothes and skin, and the prop man had to heat water in a teakettle to pour on the actors before each take.

RED DUST is a hot-blooded example of a lot of things that would soon be banned from the movies until the 1960s. Jean Harlow is a slut, Mary Astor an adultress, and Clark Gable is a two-timing cad. No one suffers for the sins of the flesh, and nothing happens that is the least bit subtle or ambiguous. You are invited to create your own carnal images with each suggestive fade-out. Harlow's Vantine is either a good girl with a streak of badness or a bad girl with a streak of goodness. Either way, her unique vulgarity, humor and slovenliness create the rarest of Hollywood goddesses, the beautiful clown.

This movie violated the Motion Picture Production Code in many different ways. Various parts of the film consist of adulterous acts and clips that suggest sex and seduction. One of the major parts of the plot involves Carson trying to seduce the already married Barbara Willis. Before there was a movie ratings system, there was the Production Code. Censorship had existed in one form or another since cinema's beginnings. But after the financial double-whammy of the "talkies" and the Great Depression, Hollywood excitedly turned to tried and true formulas: blood and guts and sex. As Thomas Doherty wrote in "Pre-Code Hollywood": "They look like Hollywood cinema, but the moral terrain is so off-kilter they seem imported from a parallel universe." These films, made between 1930-34, in image and language, implicitly and explicitly, point to the road not taken. Prior to 1934, there was lots of racy sex, and crime did pay. Thanks to the Legion of Decency, after 1934 there was Shirley Temple.

The Motion Picture Production Code was written in 1930 by an industry watchdog group. For a variety of reasons it was not enforced until the Legion of Decency applied pressure in 1934, threatening government interference unless the movies were "cleaned up". Just a few of the Code principles that RED DUST violated: No plot should present sin or evil alluringly. The triangle, that is the love of a 3rd party for one already married, needs careful handling, if marriage, the sanctity of the home and sex morality are not to be imperiled. Adultery is not a fit subject for comedy, and should not be made to appear either delightful or daring. Seduction, when essential to the plot, must not be more than suggested. Scenes of passion and lustful and prolonged kissing should not be presented in such as way as to arouse or excite the passions of the ordinary spectator. Exposure of the body for the sake of exposure and scenes of undressing are to be avoided, and so on.

During the filming, Jean Harlow's husband, MGM executive Paul Bern, either committed suicide, or was murdered by his common law wife, who committed suicide shortly afterwards. He left a famous note which read in part, "last night was only a comedy..." (regarding their attempt at sex with a dildo because of his small endowment). The studio was called before the police, and evidence was removed and replaced. Protecting a valuable star property was vital and scandals, even murders, had been covered up in Hollywood before. In fact, Clark Gable killed a pedestrian with his car while drunk, but got away with it. Harlow was never under suspicion. Shortly after Bern's funeral she went back to work, and RED DUST became one of 1932s biggest moneymakers. Audiences may have come to search her face for traces of tragedy, but the picture was too good to be only a source of morbid curiosity. For the first time, a star survived a scandal.

In 2006, RED DUST was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

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