WHITE WITCH DOCTOR
(director: Henry Hathaway; screenwriters: Ivan Goff/Ben Roberts/from the novel by Louise A. Stinetorf; cinematographer: Leon Shamroy; editor: James B. Clark; music: Bernard Herrmann; cast: Susan Hayward (Ellen Burton), Robert Mitchum (“Lonni” Douglas), Walter Slezak (Huysman), Timothy Carey (Jarrett), Paul Thompson (Witch doctor), Otis Greene (Mekope), Mashood Ajala (Jacques), Charles Gemora (Gorilla), Everett Brown (Bakuba king); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Otto Lang; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1953)
“Robert Mitchum sleepwalks through the jungle, having less charisma than the gorilla.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A hokum B adventure story directed by Henry Hathaway (“Circus World”/”Garden of Evil”). It’s Hollywood’s version of how the Congo looked back then. It’s taken by writers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts from a novel by Louise A. Stinetorf. White Witch Doctor was shot on location in the Belgian Congo and made use of authentic African musical instruments. Robert Mitchum sleepwalks through the jungle, having less charisma than the gorilla.
In 1907, a pretty young widowed nurse Ellen Burton (Susan Hayworth) arrives in the Congo to join the 68-year-old missionary Dr. Mary in the remote Bakuba territory to bring white medicine to the violent primitive natives. Struggling American big game wrangler “Lonni” Douglas (Robert Mitchum) and his ambitious Dutch business partner Huysman (Walter Slezak) catch animals for the zoos. That is, Lonni catches them and Huysman handles the business angles. Though male chauvinist Lonni is irked by the upstart Ellen’s Congo visit, suspicious of her motives, he’s nevertheless persuaded to take her to Dr. Mary in his boat. Huysman reveals there’s gold in that forbidden spot for white traders by showing him a necklace of gold nuggets and tells him that this escort trip will give him a good excuse to go there and bring back the valuable loot without the natives questioning his intentions there. Eventually it’s discovered that Dr. Mary has died, but Ellen decides to stay around for awhile and treat the king’s injured son Mekope. Ellen is anxious to show the tribesmen that the “white man’s medicine” is better than the superstitious medicine of the witch doctor. The greedy Huysman endangers the mission when he arrives in Bakuba territory and kills a Bakuba native who tries to stop him. The tribesmen hold Ellen hostage and threaten to kill her if the king’s boy dies. They blame the two whiteys for trying to fool them with their medical help when they only planned to rob them. In the meantime, Lonni has fallen in love with Ellen and is now more interested in her than in the gold. When he tells the Dutchman there’s no gold there, he’s tied up by his henchmen and threatened to be shot unless he talks. But one of the natives, Jacques, followed, and helps Lonni overcome his captors. All’s well when Ellen’s treatment of Mekope’s gangrene works.
The film remains bland and unremarkable despite the exotic background and evocative musical score by Bernard Herrmann. Mitchum, Hayworth and Slezak all give lifeless performances.
REVIEWED ON 9/27/2006 GRADE: C