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STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE(director: Henry King; screenwriters: Hal Long/Sam Hellman; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: Barbara McLean; music: R.H. Bassett; cast: Spencer Tracy (Henry M. Stanley), Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Dr. David Livingstone), Nancy Kelly (Eve Kingsley), Richard Greene (Gareth Tyce), Charles Coburn (Lord Tyce), Walter Brennan (Jeff Slocum), Henry Hull (James Gordon Bennett, Jr.), Henry Travers (John Kingsley), Miles Mander (Sir John Gresham), David Torrence (Mr. Cranston), Holmes Herbert (Frederick Holcomb); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl F. Zanuck; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1939)
“It’s dramatically sound, but factually unsound.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A chatty but crowd-pleasing prestigious biopic directed by Henry King (“In Old Chicago”/”Wilson”/”Tender Is the Night”), with the safari scenes shot by Otto Brower and much of it revisionist history (for starters, the opening scene in the frontier Wyoming Territory of 1870 never happened). Writers Hal Long and Sam Hellman, however, did the research to keep some of the story fairly accurate. Twentieth Century-Fox borrows Spencer Tracy from MGM for this spunky 19th-century adventure tale.

Publisher of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett (Henry Hull), sends his star British-born but American reporter, the adventurer Henry M. Stanley (Spencer Tracy), after he returns from a successful assignment in the Wyoming Territory to interview an Indian chief, to the Dark Continent to locate and get an exclusive interview with the famous missing Scottish missionary Dr. Livingstone (Sir Cedric Hardwicke).

Stanley goes to East Africa accompanied by his Indian scout from the Wyoming Territory days, Jeff Slocum (Walter Brennan), and under great peril from jungle fever and cannibals, tracks his prey down in the jungle of Tanganyika and utters his famous greeting: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Though seriously ill, Livingstone is blissful tending to the natives’ medical needs and preaching the gospel and declines to return with Stanley. Problem is that when Stanley returns home, he’s not believed and accused by rival publisher of the London Globe, Lord Tyce (Charles Coburn), of fraud since he offers no tangible proof. When brought to trial word leaks out that Livingstone dies and that his last request written in a letter is that Stanley carry on the work that he began. This vindicates Stanley and the new convert to the good cause goes back to the jungle to carry on Livingstone’s saintly mission (a fiction created by the film).

It’s dramatically sound, but factually unsound.

The Fox publicity campaign used the slogan “The Most Heroic Exploit the World Has Known.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”