Friday, June 19, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Mogambo (1953)

MOGAMBO is a rip-roaring African adventure from MGM, in the tradition of that studio's KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950). While not quite as good as KING SOLOMON'S MINES, MOGAMBO provides a very entertaining evening's viewing.

MOGAMBO stars Clark Gable as a safari guide, with Ava Gardner as a stranded showgirl who falls head over heels for Gable; meanwhile, Gable is busy falling head over heels for Grace Kelly, playing the genteel wife of a client. The love triangle is set against the backdrop of an exciting safari to gorilla territory.

MOGAMBO is a loose remake of Gable's own RED DUST (1932), given a classy update with location shooting and the great John Ford directing Gardner and Kelly to Oscar nominations as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. As for Gable, he may have hit 50 not long before filming this, but he still dominates the screen, the once and always King of Hollywood.

The cast also includes Donald Sinden in a sympathetic role as Kelly's neglected husband, Philip Stainton as Gable's observant colleague, and Denis O'Dea as Father Josef.

The cinematography is by Robert Surtees and Freddie Young. The film employs numerous visual tricks such as process shots, having the characters look at animals which were obviously filmed at a separate time, and some soundstage camps mixed with location settings, but despite the viewer being aware of these "Hollywood" aspects, the 115-minute film still manages to create a great mood and excitement, which is a credit to the filmmakers.

MOGAMBO is available on DVD as a single-title release or as part of the excellent 6-title Clark Gable Signature Collection. The only extra is a trailer.

The DVD picture seemed a little soft at times, but I wasn't sure if that was a reflection on the DVD quality or the way the film was originally shot. According to Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant, it's the latter: "Mogambo's print was by Technicolor but technically it's all over the map, even though this copy is by far the best I've seen on video. Some scenes were shot in barely-adequate 16mm, including the key gorilla sequence where 16mm footage is used very unconvincingly in rear projection. Other shots have shutter problems or look out of focus. Even a few first-unit shots are disturbingly out of focus, either owing to a rushed schedule, a cranky director or technical problems on the remote location." Erickson nonetheless agrees that the film is "Excellent."

MOGAMBO has also been released on VHS.

This movie can be seen on cable on Turner Classic Movies, where it next airs July 27 and August 12, 2009. The trailer can be seen at TCM here.

Update: Here's a review of the original version, RED DUST (1932).


Blogger JohnstonCoArts said...

Thanks for the great review!-Jessica Meadows, Executive Director, Ava Gardner Museum, Smithfield, NC

2:36 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for taking the time to post a note. I'd love to visit the Ava Gardner Museum one day.

Best wishes,

2:43 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

Having seen Red Dust and Mogambo, I am partial to the former because the elements that made it so enticing and dramatic were killed in the remake. The most glaring being that there was no real reason for Victor to reject Honey Bear for Linda. At least in Red Dust you understand why Denny is so bowled over by Barbara and pushed Vantine aside. Mogambo is merely a travelogue of 1950s Kenya for me--though I do wonder what the movie would have been like had Gene Tierney or Elizabeth Taylor portrayed Linda.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I was interested in your thoughts, Evangeline! I haven't seen RED DUST since I was a teenager and based on your comments I'm definitely curiously to look at it again and compare the two versions.

Since I love Gene Tierney I would also have found her very interesting in the role of Linda.

Best wishes,

11:41 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

Someone made a gorgeous fanvid on You Tube and I had to see Red Dust immediately! After I did, I rented Mogambo for comparison and as you can tell, I found it wanting.

Honey Bear (Gardner) was written as a playgirl whereas Vantine (Harlow) was a prostitute! Victor wasn't as hungry for regular life in merry olde England as Denny was, and by the 1950s, colonialism wasn't as farflung and exiled as it was in the 1930s--which made Victor and Linda's affair less romantic and realistic than Denny falling madly in love with the cool, aristocratic and high-born Barbara.

Watching both versions really hammers home how different American culture, via Hollywood, was in the 1950s when compared to the 1930s (and it's not even about Pre-Code vs Code-Era 1930s). The watering down of the characters disappointed me despite the beauty of Kenya and the great acting from all three leads. However I do agree it would have been very interesting for Gene to have portrayed Linda rather than Grace--and even more interesting to see how Hollywood would have treated two brunettes at a time when blondes were considered the "good" girls.

3:33 PM  

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