Mogambo (1953)

Drama | 9 October 1953

Director:

John Ford

Writer:

John Lee Mahin

Producer:

Sam Zimbalist

Cinematographers:

Robert Surtees, F. A. Young

Editor:

Frank Clarke

Production Designer:

Alfred Junge

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The African native expression "mogambo" is variously translated as either "passion" or "to speak." According to a 17 Dec 1951 item in HR 's "Rambling Reporter" column, M-G-M sought Lauren Bacall for a role in the film. Modern sources provide the following casting information: director John Ford originally wanted Maureen O'Hara for the role of "Eloise Kelly," and M-G-M wanted Deborah Kerr to portray "Linda Nordley." The role of Linda was offered to Gene Tierney, who declined because she did not want to take her young child on a lengthy location shoot in Africa. In her autobiography, Lana Turner recalled that the studio offered her a choice between Mogambo and Flame and the Flesh (see above). Turner wrote, "The Mogambo script didn't appeal to me, and I elected to do Flame and the Flesh . A big mistake! Ava Gardner took the Mogambo role and played it beautifully, but with a script very different from the one I read." A modern source states that the director's brother, actor and silent film director Francis Ford, had been cast as the "Skipper," but died before production began.
       According to contemporary sources, Mogambo was shot primarily on location in Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika), Uganda, French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo) and Nairobi, Kenya. Additional scenes were shot in M-G-M's studio in Elstree. Contemporary news items add that M-G-M studio technicians constructed a large, well-appointed safari camp on the Kagera River, complete with a 2,000-yard airstrip. The studio also brought in hundreds of tribal warriors from different sections of ... More Less

The African native expression "mogambo" is variously translated as either "passion" or "to speak." According to a 17 Dec 1951 item in HR 's "Rambling Reporter" column, M-G-M sought Lauren Bacall for a role in the film. Modern sources provide the following casting information: director John Ford originally wanted Maureen O'Hara for the role of "Eloise Kelly," and M-G-M wanted Deborah Kerr to portray "Linda Nordley." The role of Linda was offered to Gene Tierney, who declined because she did not want to take her young child on a lengthy location shoot in Africa. In her autobiography, Lana Turner recalled that the studio offered her a choice between Mogambo and Flame and the Flesh (see above). Turner wrote, "The Mogambo script didn't appeal to me, and I elected to do Flame and the Flesh . A big mistake! Ava Gardner took the Mogambo role and played it beautifully, but with a script very different from the one I read." A modern source states that the director's brother, actor and silent film director Francis Ford, had been cast as the "Skipper," but died before production began.
       According to contemporary sources, Mogambo was shot primarily on location in Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika), Uganda, French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo) and Nairobi, Kenya. Additional scenes were shot in M-G-M's studio in Elstree. Contemporary news items add that M-G-M studio technicians constructed a large, well-appointed safari camp on the Kagera River, complete with a 2,000-yard airstrip. The studio also brought in hundreds of tribal warriors from different sections of Africa to serve as extras. News items also reveal security concerns over the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, in which a radical sect of the Kikuyu tribe launched a violent rebellion against British rule. Production began only a month after the British declared a state of emergency in the area, and, according to M-G-M News , the film's stars and director were required to carry guns. John Hancock, an assistant director with M-G-M's British studios, was killed, along with two native workers, when his vehicle overturned during location shooting in Kenya. A 26 Nov 1952 HR news item reported that Ava Gardner was in a London nursing home recovering from a "tropical illness" contracted on location. In her autobiography, however, Gardner revealed that she had learned she was pregnant during the shoot, and had flown to London for an abortion without then-husband Frank Sinatra's knowledge.
       Mogambo is a remake of the 1932 M-G-M film Red Dust , which was directed by Victor Fleming and starred Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Mary Astor (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). Set on a rubber plantation in Indochina, Red Dust also featured a screenplay by John Lee Mahin. The 1940 M-G-M film Congo Maisie , directed by Henry C. Potter and starring Ann Sothern, is often referred to in modern sources as a remake of Red Dust , but Congo Maisie was actually based on the Wilson Collison novel Congo Landing . According to modern sources, Stewart Granger proposed the remake, hoping to recreate his success in M-G-M's 1950 African adventure film King Solomon's Mines (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). Dore Schary, M-G-M's head of production, agreed with the idea, but decided to cast Gable in the role he had played twenty-one years earlier. In a modern interview, director Ford said, "I never saw the original picture. I liked the script and the story, I liked the setup and I'd never been to that part of Africa--so I just did it."
       Although Mogambo was less risqué than Red Dust , the film encountered Production Code problems because of the scene in which "Victor Marswell" discovers Eloise using an outdoor shower--a new version of the famous scene in Red Dust in which Harlow's character is seen bathing in a rain barrel. According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA believed the shower scene "involved too much exposure" and demanded that some footage be eliminated. On 13 Apr 1954, M-G-M executive Robert Vogel wrote to Geoffrey Shurlock of the MPAA regarding a recent, unidentified film that also had a shower scene. "In Mogambo , there are five shots of Ava Gardner in the shower; the five total exactly 40 feet," he wrote. "The sequence in the other picture runs exactly 160 feet--practically all of it in close-up, and the dialogue is obviously more questionable." Vogel concluded, "I presume you realize that I am not bringing this matter up because I object to anybody else having 160 feet of such a scene, but merely because we had a little difficulty before we were permitted to retain 40 feet in our picture."
       Mogambo received generally good reviews, and boosted the careers of both its female stars. The DV review proclaimed, "What Red Dust did for the late Jean Harlow in 1932, this modern version should do for Miss Gardner in 1953." Gardner was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, and Grace Kelly received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Some reviews noted that, like King Solomon's Mines , which also was produced by Sam Zimbalist, Mogambo had no musical score, and instead drew on native chants and the sounds of the jungle for atmosphere. According to a modern source, New York City disc jockey "Murray the K" used one of the African chants from the film as his theme song. According to a 29 Mar 1954 HR news item, M-G-M tried unsuccessfully to have Mogambo designated as a British production in order to qualify for a tax rebate under Great Britain's Eady Plan. A modern source adds Asa Etula ( Young native girl ) to the cast and credits Alexander Fisher with sound and Richard Rosson, Yakima Canutt and James C. Havens with second-unit direction. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 Mar 53
p. 102.
Box Office
19 Sep 1953.
---
Daily Variety
15 Sep 53
p. 3.
Film Daily
15 Sep 53
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Dec 51
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Nov 52
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Nov 52
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jan 53
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jan 53
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Mar 53
p. 18, 22.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Aug 53
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Sep 1953
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Sep 53
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 53
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Oct 53
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Mar 54
p. 1.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
19 Sep 53
p. 1997.
New York Times
19 Oct 1952.
---
New York Times
4 Jan 1953.
---
New York Times
2 Oct 53
p. 18.
Variety
19 Mar 1953.
---
Variety
16 Sep 53
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
Cost
SOUND
Rec dir
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdressing
PRODUCTION MISC
Safari leader
Safari leader
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Red Dust by Wilson Collison (New York, 2 Jan 1928).
SONGS
"Comin' Thro' the Rye," words by Robert Burns, music Scottish traditional.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
9 October 1953
Premiere Information:
World premiere in San Francisco, CA: 23 September 1953
New York opening: 1 October 1953
Los Angeles opening: 8 October 1953
Production Date:
17 November 1952--20 March 1953 in Africa and at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Boreham Wood, Elstree, England
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
4 September 1953
Copyright Number:
LP3755
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Length(in feet):
10,422
Length(in reels):
13
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16530
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

After a failed attempt to capture a dangerous black leopard, safari guide and big game hunter Victor Marswell returns to his African ranch in a foul temper, only to discover that an attractive young woman has made herself at home there. The unexpected visitor, Eloise Y. "Honeybear" Kelly, tells Victor that she traveled from New York at the request of her suitor, a maharajah who has since departed for India and left her stranded. Eloise, a former showgirl, is furious when she learns she will have to wait for the following week's boat to leave Africa, but tries to make herself at home in her new surroundings. She gradually wins Victor over with her warmth, and a romance develops. Eloise also endears herself to Victor's aides, Leon Boltchak and John Brown-Pryce, who is known as Brownie. At the end of the week, Eloise is hurt when Victor abruptly informs her that the boat has arrived and orders her to pack. After bidding Eloise an awkward goodbye, Victor greets British anthropologist Donald Nordley and his beautiful wife Linda, who have come to stay at the ranch. Victor is angry to learn that Donald plans to make the difficult journey up the river to gorilla country, and refuses to accompany him personally. When Donald becomes ill in reaction to a tsetse fly vaccination, Victor ministers to him, but his callous attitude offends Linda, and she strikes him. Late that night, Donald's condition improves, and Linda apologizes to Victor for her rash behavior. Eloise then shows up with the drunken skipper, who reports that the steamer had engine trouble and will take about four ... +


After a failed attempt to capture a dangerous black leopard, safari guide and big game hunter Victor Marswell returns to his African ranch in a foul temper, only to discover that an attractive young woman has made herself at home there. The unexpected visitor, Eloise Y. "Honeybear" Kelly, tells Victor that she traveled from New York at the request of her suitor, a maharajah who has since departed for India and left her stranded. Eloise, a former showgirl, is furious when she learns she will have to wait for the following week's boat to leave Africa, but tries to make herself at home in her new surroundings. She gradually wins Victor over with her warmth, and a romance develops. Eloise also endears herself to Victor's aides, Leon Boltchak and John Brown-Pryce, who is known as Brownie. At the end of the week, Eloise is hurt when Victor abruptly informs her that the boat has arrived and orders her to pack. After bidding Eloise an awkward goodbye, Victor greets British anthropologist Donald Nordley and his beautiful wife Linda, who have come to stay at the ranch. Victor is angry to learn that Donald plans to make the difficult journey up the river to gorilla country, and refuses to accompany him personally. When Donald becomes ill in reaction to a tsetse fly vaccination, Victor ministers to him, but his callous attitude offends Linda, and she strikes him. Late that night, Donald's condition improves, and Linda apologizes to Victor for her rash behavior. Eloise then shows up with the drunken skipper, who reports that the steamer had engine trouble and will take about four weeks to repair. The following morning, Eloise introduces herself to Linda, and embarrasses the prim Englishwoman with a candid account of her romantic escapades. Linda goes for a walk in the jungle and Victor sets out after her, catching up with her just in time to save her from the black leopard. On their way back to the camp, Victor and Linda are caught in a fierce wind storm, and as Victor carries her the final distance, an uneasy attraction begins to surface between them. That night, Eloise, who had witnessed a charged moment between Victor and Linda, aims barbs at them throughout dinner, and Victor suddenly announces that he will accompany the Nordleys to gorilla country. Brownie suggests that Eloise join the safari party and catch a flight to Cairo when they reach the Kena station in the Samburu territory. The group departs, and relations are strained between Linda and Eloise, who has fallen in love with Victor. The party stops at a mission run by Father Josef, who agrees to supply canoes and men for the expedition after Victor takes part in a dangerous "ceremony of courage." Eloise takes confession with Father Josef, then apologizes to Linda, who haughtily rejects her offer of friendship. The journey continues, and when they reach Samburu territory, they find the station master badly wounded, a casualty of a native uprising that began the previous night. Escorting the injured man out, the safari party escapes the menacing natives. Later, Eloise tells Brownie that she was briefly married, but her husband was killed in the war. Meanwhile, Victor and Linda are taking a walk when they fall into a passionate embrace. Linda is extremely agitated when she returns to her tent late at night, and rejects Donald's advances. When the party reaches gorilla country, Victor, who has fallen in love with Linda, tells her that he will inform Donald of their affair the following day. While the men are preparing to trap a baby gorilla, Donald tells Victor that he fears the trip has been difficult for Linda, adding that she forgot their wedding anniversary the other night. As Donald speaks of his love for his wife, Victor realizes he cannot tell him the truth and stalks back to the camp in anger. That evening, at the observation post, Boltchak makes insinuating comments to Donald about Victor and Linda, and Donald leaves the post in a rage. Back at the camp, Eloise finds Victor drinking in his tent and deduces that he "went noble" in his encounter with Donald. Eloise is drinking with Victor and sitting on his lap when Linda comes into his tent. Seeing a way to end things with Linda, Victor plays up his caddish nature, and Linda becomes hysterical and shoots Victor in the arm. Just then, Donald returns to camp and rushes into the tent. Improvising quickly, Eloise tells him that Victor had been making a pass at Linda when she shot him. The Nordleys depart the next morning, and Victor asks Eloise to marry him. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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