SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO, THE(director: Henry King; screenwriters: Casey Robinson/based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway; cinematographer: Leon Shamroy; editor: Barbara McLean; music: Bernard Herrmann; cast: (Gregory Peck (Harry Street), Susan Hayward (Helen), Ava Gardner (Cynthia Green), Hildegarde Neff (Countess Liz), Leo G. Carroll (Uncle Bill), Marcel Dalio (Emile), Torin Thatcher (Johnson), Ava Norring (Beatrice), Helene Stanley (Connie), Richard Allan (Spanish dancer), Emmett Smith (Molo), Leonard Carey (Dr. Simmons); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl F. Zanuck; 20th Century Fox; 1952)
“The star-studded cast makes the flawed film watchable.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Director Henry King (“In Old Chicago”/”Jesse James”/”Wilson”) gives Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 somewhat confessional autobiographical short story a happy ending, something that displeased the writer. Hemingway was also upset that the film added bits and pieces form his other works, lamenting that he only sold Zanuck the rights to this short story. The embittered author further states the pic should really be called “The Snows of Zanuck.” Writer Casey Robinson, a fan of the writer, expands the short story but in the process stuffs too much into it. Though it was brilliantly shot on location in Paris, Africa, the Riviera and Spain, it was mostly shot in the studio with an enormous painting standing in for the title mountain. The star-studded cast makes the flawed film watchable, even though it never climbs any mountain for greatness.
The film is shot greatly in flashback. The cynical, womanizing, hard-drinking, caustic Harry Street (Gregory Peck) is a dying American writer looking back on his life with misgivings after his leg becomes seriously infected on a African safari in 1946. He’s with his long-suffering faithful second wife, the wealthy Helen (Susan Hayward), in a camp near Mt. Kilimanjaro waiting for a rescue plane. The depressed Harry believes he’s a failure, because his celebrity and material success was gained from his hack writing. He’s now frustrated that he wasted his natural talent in such trivial pursuits. As the jungle fever sets in he begins telling Helen about his first love, Connie, as a teenager and how his worldly Uncle Billy (Leo G. Carroll) ended the relationship by telling him to wait until he matures and his writing career gets started. Uncle Billy provided the financial means for Harry to broaden his horizons through travel and presented him on his birthday with a hunting rifle. Harry makes his way in the world from a wide-eyed friendly teenager to an ambitious writer who quit his Chicago newspaper reporter’s job to write a book while living as an expatriate in Paris.
While delirious Harry recalls how he caught his leg in a thorn and that he became infected when he failed to treat it. He was before photographing hippopotamuses up close and had to jump in the water to rescue an African, who died anyway.
Coming in and out of his delirium, Harry recalls meeting in the 1920s in a jazz club in Paris the love of his life, the beautiful and vulnerable playgirl Cynthia Green (Ava Gardner), a free-spirit who went to Paris to find happiness. After living together with Cynthia in Paris, under humble circumstances, Harry gets his first book published and celebrates by going to Africa with his wife.
The dying and unhappy writer recalls how he lost Cynthia to a flamenco dancer in Madrid because he didn’t want to settle down and raise a family and how he afterwards lived dangerously in Africa, which was the happiest time in his life. He recalls how after much success writing bestsellers and many relationships, he lived with the cold-hearted possessive beautiful Countess Liz (Hildegard Knef), on the Riviera, but left her when he met on a Paris bridge Helen and married her because she looked like Cynthia.
When his beloved Uncle Bill dies, he leaves Harry an unsolvable riddle of the leopard who died atop Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest mountain), high above his normal hunting grounds. To solve the riddle Harry must find out what the leopard was doing there, and is left wondering if Bill meant that he has lost his way just as the leopard could have.
The lavish production gives a big broad treatment of the writer as a romantic adventurer, who tests his courage and manhood by hunting and conquering women. The film reiterates with gusto the great white hunter/writer’s macho philosophy: ‘Real writing is like a hunt… a life-long safari; and the prey is truth.’
REVIEWED ON 9/11/2009 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ