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Year: 1953
Director: John Ford
Stars: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Donald Sinden, Philip Stainton, Eric Pohlmann, Laurence Naismith, Denis O'Dea
Genre: Drama, Romance, Adventure
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Africa, where the white man likes to go on safari, and one of those white men is Victor Marswell (Clark Gable) who owns his own animal compound there and will help out any visitors wishing to investigate the landscape further. But while he makes a living from trapping, he cannot always rely on his men, as today when one of his colleagues beats a black leopard after it bites him, enabling the creature to get away. Returning home in a bad mood, Victor is greeted with the sight of a mystery woman in his shower - she is Eloise Kelly (Ava Gardner), a nightclub singer just flown in from New York City.

This was a remake of another Gable film, Red Dust, which had not only secured his name as the King of Hollywood at that early stage in his career, but set Jean Harlow on the path to superstardom with her sassy and sexual performance. So why not try it again, with a different cast? Especially as this time around John Ford could take his cast and crew out to actual locations in Central Africa - Congo, Kenya and Tanzania mostly - for what amounted to a nice holiday in the sun. Well, that was the idea, but once those outdoors shots were gathered, it was back to London and the studio to take care of the bulk of story.

Another reason why this might not have been as pleasant as it could have been was the behaviour of director Ford, who was well known for being irascible but once it became clear he couldn't get his preferred choice of Maureen O'Hara in the "Honey Bear" Kelly role, he went out of his way to make Gardner's life as difficult as possible, purely out of spite. The fact that Gardner was able to not only give an excellent performance, but practically steal the movie from under the noses of her co-stars was testament to her oft-underrated star power and talent, as no scene in this which features her character is ever boring, which was more than you could say of the other beauty in the story.

She was Grace Kelly, making a name for herself (and making a beeline for Gable as she liked the older man), but saddled with a prim, boring character who sported an English accent which came and went depending on how loudly she was required to speak. The future Princess Grace played scientist's wife Linda, the husband played by Donald Sinden well before he became the butt of jokes on satirical puppet show Spitting Image, and a more prim, staid couple you could not imagine, which made the fact that Gable's rangy fellow of the world would prefer her over man's woman Eloise somewhat hard to believe, though that did not stop them dedicating a lot of screentime to it.

Also getting a lot of screentime were the animals, seeing as how they were in Africa they might as well take advantage of the surroundings and pack in as many hippos, elephants, big cats, snakes, chimps and whatnot as they possibly could. But it's the gorillas which created most concern as Sinden's researcher wants to examine them in the wild, so Victor agrees to take him with a view to getting a baby ape because it will be worth a lot of money to him. That may make you question Victor's heroic place in the movie, as will his willingness to seduce the two women, but if they tried to get away with as much sexuality as they could as if being this close to nature was bringing out the ladies' latent lusts, it still wasn't as saucy as what Harlow had gotten up to back in the thirties. This was an undeniably low strength adventure, as if we were invited to lose ourselves in the exotic land rather than get excited by the plot, but Gardner's vital, sardonic performance went some way to saving the day.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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