(director: John Ford; screenwriters: based on the play by Wilson Collison/John Lee Mahin; cinematographers: Robert Surtees/F. A. Young; editor: Frank Clarke; cast: Clark Gable (Victor Marswell), Ava Gardner (Eloise Y. ‘Honey Bear’ Kelly), Grace Kelly (Linda Nordley), Donald Sinden (Donald Nordley), Eric Pohlmann (Leon Boltchak), Philip Stainton (John Brown Pryce), Laurence Naismith (Skipper), Denis O’Dea (Father Josef); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Zimbalist; MGM; 1953)
“The easy rapport between Gable and Ava becomes the film’s main selling point.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Lush remake of the smash hit Red Dust (1932), which was based on a steamy but unsuccessful 1928 Broadway play by Wilson Collison. It’s filmed on location (Kenya, Tanganyika, and Uganda) as opposed to the original filmed on the studio backlot. The recognized “King of Hollywood” Clark Gable plays the sexy lead in both versions and John Lee Mahin works over his original script (changing locations from an Indochinese rubber plantation to a Kenyan safari camp, but basically keeping the same romantic/adventure story in place), while Ava Gardner ably takes the part of Jean Harlow and Grace Kelly takes the Mary Astor part. John Ford (“Stagecoach”/ “Donovan’s Reef”/”The Quiet Man”) replaces Victor Fleming as director, and tries to do the same thing to Africa he does for his Westerns. The film’s box office numbers reaffirmed Gable as “King of Hollywood” when it comes to the box office.
Veteran safari guide Victor Marswell (Clark Gable) is in Kenya, with his aides, Leon Boltchak (Eric Pohlmann) and the more trusted John Brown-Pryce (Philip Stainton), who is known as Brownie, collecting animals for the circus, zoos and trainers, when unexpectedly NYC loose living former show gal and playgal Eloise ‘Honey Bear’ Kelly (Ava Gardner) shows up expecting to join her lover maharajah and finds he ditched her for India. Stuck for a week until the next boat out of the jungle, Kelly and Victor make small talk and eyes at each other until Victor’s next client shows up on the boat, the English anthropologist, Donald Nordley (Donald Sinden) and his attractive prim wife Linda (Grace Kelly). Kelly is given money for airfare by Victor and placed on the returning boat.
Victor is not pleased to learn that Donald changes his safari plans and now wishes to go up the river to gorilla country, which Victor refuses to lead because the gorilla is such an unpredictable animal and it might take too long to spot them. When Donald has a bad reaction to a tsetse fly vaccination, Victor nurses him with quinine and tough love until he mends overnight. Kelly then shows up with the drunken skipper (Laurence Naismith), who reports that the steamer had engine trouble and will take at least four weeks to repair. When the lady opposites meet, the proper Linda is taken aback by the candid floozy’s rich account of her romantic escapades.
While Victor and Linda stroll through the jungle, the two find there’s a strong attraction between them. Back at his ranch camp, Victor changes his mind and decides to take the Brits to gorilla country and begins a dalliance with Linda. Eloise joins the safari party in order to catch a flight to Cairo when they reach the Kena station in the Samburu territory, but still nurses a love for Mr. Macho.
The sex is much toned down from Red Dust, with the idea to make it more family friendly. The love triangle plays out, with Ava getting her Gable in the end. The easy rapport between Gable and Ava becomes the film’s main selling point, as this very well might be Ava’s finest performance.
REVIEWED ON 8/18/2009 GRADE: B