The Macomber Affair (1947)


(director: Zoltan Korda; screenwriters: based on the Ernest Hemingway story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”/Casey Robinson/Seymour Bennett/Frank Arnold; cinematographers: Karl Struss/Osmond Borradaile/John Wilcox/Freddie Francis; editors: George Field/Jack Wheeler; music: Miklos Pozsa; cast: Gregory Peck (Robert Wilson), Joan Bennett (Margo Macomber), Robert Preston (Francis Macomber), Reginald Denny (Captain Smollett), Carl Harbord (Coroner), Jean Gillie Aimee), Earl Smith (Kongoni), Vernon Downing (Reporter Logan); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Casey Robinson/ Benedict Bogeaus; United Artists; 1947)
The melodrama has terrific measured performances by the three stars, a great terse script and a story about a destructive marriage that hits home with its raw power unleashed as a battle of wills.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ernest Hemingway’s brilliant short story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” which appeared in Cosmopolitan Magazine in the 1936 issue, turns out rather well on film as effectively directed by the talented Brit filmmaker Zoltan Korda(“The Drum”/”Elephant Boy”/”The Four Feathers”) and written by Casey Robinson, Seymour Bennett and Frank Arnold. The thriller was shot in black-and-white, with key cinematographer Karl Struss shooting the film with the stars in the Hollywood studio and three second-unit cinematographers shooting the jungle background shots in Kenya.

The pic opens with a plane landing in Nairobi, Africa, that is carrying back from a safari the corpse of Francis Macomber (Robert Preston). He was shot by accident in the back during a buffalo hunt as attested to by his wife Margo (Joan Bennett), the stoic English safari guide Robert Wilson (Gregory Peck) and the native gunbearers.

We soon learn that wealthy American Francis Macomber and his beautiful wife Margo are experiencing marriage problems in their rocky ten year marriage and have decided to leave NYC for a big-game safari in Nairobi, with the hope they can mend things with this exotic adventure and Francis could gather enough courage during the hunt to overcome his annoying cowardly traits–something driving him apart from the wife, who has turned into a bitch whom he still craves despite the way she treats him with contempt as a mouse. The police commissioner, Captain Edison Smollett (Reginald Denny), gives the tight-lipped Wilson a questionnaire to fill out overnight in detail about the incident for a jury inquest the next day. In a flashback, we follow what happened on the tragic safari as Wilson writes his detailed report.

With Francis excited about bagging a roaring lion heard in their campsite, the guide takes him to a spot where he gets a clear shot at the lion in the open field. When he only wounds the lion, the hunter tracks the lion to where he is licking his wound in a bush and gives Francis a chance to get the kill and put the lion out of his misery. But when the lion charges, the jumpy Francis turns scared and runs away leaving the guide to kill the lion. Francis’s cowardice gets his wife turning hostile to him, breaking her promise to be nice on the trip, and turning romantically to the polite but receptive hunter whom she kisses in front of her humiliated hubby. Meanwhile Francis takes out his disappointment on the native servant and in a rage beats him until separated by the guide. Hoping to redeem himself the next day on a buffalo hunt, Francis seems to be exhilarated about the hunt and despite Margo staying out all night to sleep with the guide and giving him hate, he guns down three buffaloes. When this time a wounded buffalo charges, Robert doesn’t retreat but stands his ground and fires. When Margo sees what’s happening and realizing hubby is a changed man and is now man enough not to take her bullying anymore and will probably dump her after the vacation, she fires at the charging water buffalo but instead fatally hits her hubby in the back. In the end, Margo wishes to face the jury alone, turning down Wilson’s offer to go with her, as she hopes to get it off her chest and tell what she felt when she fired that fatal shot. If she intentionally or accidentally shot her hubby, she’s prepared to let the jury decide.

The melodrama has terrific measured performances by the three stars, a great terse script and a story about a destructive marriage that hits home with its raw power unleashed as a battle of wills. Too bad about the moral ending it was given a sentimental flavoring, as it was undoubtedly influenced by the Production Code in place and not derived from Hemingway’s gripping story.