In the 19th century, a flourishing tourism industry developed in service to European hunters who wished to come and shoot down African creatures without restrictions. Movies about this time feature the cream of Great White Hunters: Gregory Peck, Clark Gable, and Charlton Heston. The Hollywood prototype for these films was Trader Horn.
Trader Horn (1931)
Among the first Hollywood films (semi-documentary) to be made on location in Africa, and based on a book about the real-life Trader Horn, it opens with the title character (Harry Carey) making his way down a crocodile infested river with a young male companion. They stop in a village and then make their way further into the interior. It is Masai country. The young man is made nervous by many scenes of dangerous animal life. They meet a determined missionary woman traveling with only a native entourage. The two white men push on while Carey acts as tour guide for their nature walk. The group is menaced by two rhinos. One of the animals kills a bearer (a real event). Carey kills both of the rhinos. They reach a remote village where he intends to trade for ivory. Suddenly a beautiful white woman (Edwina Booth) appears issuing orders to the villagers. She is the lost daughter of a missionary. The two white hunters are taken prisoner and there is frenzied dancing in the village. There are fears of cannibalism. The White woman encourages the frenzy. Preparations are made to lash the prisoners to crude crosses. Abruptly the white woman has a change of heart and helps the prisoners escape. It is a long trek back to civilization. They are without their rifles and have poor luck hunting for food. Watching a pride of lions fighting at length over a kill, they and manage to scavenge some of the meat. The head bearer kills one of the lions with a spear. The men begin to fight over the white woman. They are pursued by hostile villagers and Carey creates a diversion with the help of head bearer. They swing on vines across a stream choked with crocodiles. The bearer falls and dies. Meanwhile the young man and the now inexplicably docile white girl have begun to fall in love even as they are surrounded by a large group of Pygmies. Eventually the three white people are reunited at a trading post. Once Trader Horn sees how it is with the young lovers, he sends them off on a riverboat with a mawkish speech about how he could never leave his one true love, the jungle. He sets off down the river in a canoe.
Directed by W. S. Van Dyke, who would film the seminal Tarzan the Ape Man in the following year using leftover footage from this movie. Wiki says that Edwina Booth contracted an illness in Africa and sued MGM. She died at an advanced age in the 1990s.
The Macomber Affair (1947)
Based on a 1936 Hemingway short story, this movie has been hard to find. While it is interesting in many ways, it disappoints on two levels. First, it requires Robert Preston to play an emasculated American businessman trying to impress his beautiful wife (Joan Bennett) with his courage while on a Serengeti safari. As his efforts fail, his wife becomes increasingly contemptuous and turns her attentions to their professional guide, played by a Gregory Peck. On another level, the film disappoints those who are familiar with the Hemingway story because of its clumsy framing device attempting to manufacture romance between Bennett and Peck (see New York Times review). In his famously terse style, Hemingway had devoted his story to an exploration of the psychology of manliness as revealed in the primal pursuit of the hunt. The wife and animal victims are mere anchors for this deeper preoccupation. No doubt the character of the unflappable professional hunter is a stand-in for the author. The poster for the movie headlines, GREGORY PECK Makes that Hemingway Kind of Love to JOAN BENNETT.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)
Gregory Peck plays the central character in this dramatization of the Ernest Hemingway story (1938). Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner are past and present love interests (see Mogambo above). Harry Street, a successful writer with a gnawing sense that he has wasted his talent lies almost near death in a well-appointed camp at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest mountain, in Tanzania near the Kenya border). He has apparently been scratched by a thorn and developed gangrene. Black servants tend to his every need and Hayward gives him loving devotion far beyond what he deserves. In his delirium, he remembers his lost love, Gardner, who had issues with his passion for literary success. She becomes pregnant but does not tell Harry, who is determined to get to the bullfights in Spain. For him the way to be a writer is to be a man of action. Anyone familiar with Hemingway’s life story may begin to suspect that this work is autobiographical. Ava loses the baby in a fall after an argument with him. Now they can go to the bullfights. They end up in the midst of the Spanish Civil War and Ava is killed. Back in the shadow of Kilimanjaro, Harry is driven to distraction by the cries of a laughing hyena. There are as well buzzards in the trees above him and his sure death is calling to him. Hayward, aware that he is obsessing on what he lost with Gardner, does her level best to demonstrate that he has all the love he needs right beside his bed. There is a lesser leitmotif where Harry has been left a legacy in the form of a riddle. It involves figuring out how a leopard lost the scent of his prey and died in the snows of Kilimanjaro. His wound swells and Hayward must puncture it with a knife. At the same time, he has come to see this woman with new eyes and to appreciate the presence of her love. Just when it looks like curtains for Harry, a plane arrives to take him off to hospital and everything is going to be OK. The hyena and the buzzards have gone away. Hemingway (d. 1961) had uneven luck in bringing his books to film. This one did well as did A Farewell to Arms (1932).
Clark Gable is the Great White Hunter leading an expedition of over-privileged whites into the interior of Africa. A love triangle is completed by Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner. The scenes of African life are sometimes interesting and picturesque, but they are backdrops to the white melodrama. Their mission is to trap a mountain gorilla and their abuse of the animals is saddening. Based on the earlier movie, Red Dust (1932), which was set in Indochina.
Nairobi Affair (1984)
Charlton Heston as a leader of photographic safaris. Film in Kenya. Not available from any of my sources.
Serengeti Related Posts:
- Movies & the Human Journey
- King Solomon’s Mines (1950)
- Movies: Great White Hunters of Africa
- Killing the Lion: African Tribal Movies
- Lion King (1994) – Disney