Mountains of the Moon (1990)

R | 126 mins | Adventure, Biography | 23 February 1990

Director:

Bob Rafelson

Producer:

Daniel Melnick

Cinematographer:

Roger Deakins

Editor:

Thom Noble

Production Designer:

Norman Reynolds

Production Companies:

Carolco Pictures, Inc., Indieprod Co.
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HISTORY

       Although several issues of DV, including the 19 Oct 1988 edition, reported the starting date as 19 Sept 1988, production notes in AMPAS library files claim principal photography began 18 Sep 1988 near Reading, England, at Stratfield Saye, home of the eighth Duke of Wellington. The estate stood in for the home of “Lord Houghton,” where “Richard Burton” meets “Isabel Arundell” at a party. Dorney Court, a manor house near Windsor, England, was used as the home of “John Hanning Speke.” Milton Manor outside Oxford, England, doubled for the Arundell estate. British Royal Geographical Society scenes were filmed at Liverpool, England’s Town Hall, and the Society’s library was shot at Liverpool’s Atheneum Club. Arundell’s and Burton’s farewell scene at the “Port of London” was filmed outside Liverpool. Burton’s lodgings and a Victorian music hall were built at Shepperton Studios. The production moved to Kenya on 29 Oct 1988 for eleven weeks of shooting. The scene in which Burton and Speke meet was filmed at an old Arab town on the coastal island of Lamu, Kenya. Other filming took place on Mambrui Beach north of Malindi, the Athi plains south of Nairobi, and Lake Turkana, which stood in for Lake Tanganyika. Production designer Norman Reynolds took eighteen weeks to build a village near the extinct volcano of Longenot for the “King Ngola” scenes. The film’s final African scene was shot at Lake Victoria. The 11 Jan 1989 DV announced that principal photography was completed.
       Three years prior to production, writer-director Bob Rafelson told the 7 Nov 1985 DV that he had been preparing Mountains of the Moon since 1982, when he ... More Less

       Although several issues of DV, including the 19 Oct 1988 edition, reported the starting date as 19 Sept 1988, production notes in AMPAS library files claim principal photography began 18 Sep 1988 near Reading, England, at Stratfield Saye, home of the eighth Duke of Wellington. The estate stood in for the home of “Lord Houghton,” where “Richard Burton” meets “Isabel Arundell” at a party. Dorney Court, a manor house near Windsor, England, was used as the home of “John Hanning Speke.” Milton Manor outside Oxford, England, doubled for the Arundell estate. British Royal Geographical Society scenes were filmed at Liverpool, England’s Town Hall, and the Society’s library was shot at Liverpool’s Atheneum Club. Arundell’s and Burton’s farewell scene at the “Port of London” was filmed outside Liverpool. Burton’s lodgings and a Victorian music hall were built at Shepperton Studios. The production moved to Kenya on 29 Oct 1988 for eleven weeks of shooting. The scene in which Burton and Speke meet was filmed at an old Arab town on the coastal island of Lamu, Kenya. Other filming took place on Mambrui Beach north of Malindi, the Athi plains south of Nairobi, and Lake Turkana, which stood in for Lake Tanganyika. Production designer Norman Reynolds took eighteen weeks to build a village near the extinct volcano of Longenot for the “King Ngola” scenes. The film’s final African scene was shot at Lake Victoria. The 11 Jan 1989 DV announced that principal photography was completed.
       Three years prior to production, writer-director Bob Rafelson told the 7 Nov 1985 DV that he had been preparing Mountains of the Moon since 1982, when he and William Harrison began writing the script. His research included a 112-day hike retracing nineteenth-century explorer Richard Burton’s route from East Africa to the center of the continent. He told the 23 Aug 1983 DV that he hoped Mel Gibson and David Bowie would star as Burton and Speke, respectively.
       The 21 Nov 1988 DV detailed how producer Daniel Melnick’s leg was infected after a Somali actor accidentally wounded him with a spear in Malinda, Kenya. Melnick was flown to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA, for extensive treatment before returning to set.
       Omar Sharif had a cameo as an Egyptian “Sultan,” according to the 19 Oct 1988 DV and 15 Dec 1988 Chicago Tribune. He is not listed in the credits.
       The film cost $18 million, the 18 Feb 1990 LAT reported. Carolco Pictures, Inc. agreed to make the long-shelved script after another Rafelson project fell through and Carolco needed a “ready to go” project.
       The 16 Jun 1989 DV reported that Mountains of the Moon was in post-production and scheduled for a fall release, but it did not open in theaters until 23 Feb 1990.
      The film begins with the title card: “East African Coast 1854.” Near the end, another card reads: “Two years later.” End credits are preceded by the following written statements: “Isabel Burton remained married to Burton for 30 years. They were never seen apart in public. David Livingstone died on expedition, still searching for the Nile source. Sidi Bombay served the five major English expeditions in Africa and became the only man to cross the continent from South to North and from East to West. He was never invited to England. John Hanning Speke was correct about Lake Victoria being the source of the Nile. Final proof came 12 years after his death.” End credits also include the following: “Made at Lee International Studios, Shepperton, England, and on location in Liverpool (with thanks to Liverpool City Council) and The Republic of Kenya.”
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Tribune
15 Dec 1988
p. 11
Daily Variety
23 Aug 1983
p. 3
Daily Variety
7 Nov 1985
p. 3
Daily Variety
23 Sep 1988
p. 2
Daily Variety
19 Oct 1988
p. 6
Daily Variety
19 Oct 1988
p. 114
Daily Variety
2 Nov 1988
p. 4
Daily Variety
21 Nov 1988
p. 3
Daily Variety
11 Jan 1989
p. 3
Daily Variety
20 Jan 1989
p. 2
Daily Variety
16 Jun 1989
p. 1
Los Angeles Times
18 Feb 1990
Calendar, p. 3
Los Angeles Times
23 Feb 1990
p. 1.
New York Times
23 Feb 1990
p. 12.
Variety
21 Sep 1988
p. 6
Variety
31 Jan 1990
p. 31, 33.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna Present
A Daniel Melnick / IndieProd Production
A Bob Rafelson Film
A Tri-Star Release
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
Unit prod mgr, Kenyan unit
2d unit asst dir, Kenyan unit
2d unit asst dir, Kenyan unit
3rd asst dir, Kenyan unit
3rd asst dir, Kenyan unit
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Addl photog
Cam op
Focus puller
2d cam focus
Clapper loader
Clapper loader
Clapper loader
Gaffer
Best boy
Elec, Lee Electric Lighting
Elec, Lee Electric Lighting
Elec, Lee Electric Lighting
Elec, Lee Electric Lighting
Genny op
Genny op
Spec stills photog
Stills photog
Grip, Kenyan unit
Grip, Kenyan unit
Elec, Kenyan unit
Elec, Kenyan unit
Elec, Kenyan unit
Elec, Kenyan unit
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Storyboard artist
Sketch artist, Kenyan unit
Art dept asst, Kenyan unit
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Post-prod supv
Post-prod coord
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prod buyer
Prop master
Loc prop master
Supv S/by prop
Chargehand S/by prop
Chargehand dressing props
Chargehand dressing props
Chargehand dressing props
Chargehand dressing props
Propman
Chargehand drapes
Const mgr
Asst const mgr
Supv carpenter
Supv carpenter
Chargehand carpenter
S/by carpenter
Supv painter
Supv painter
Chargehand S/by painter
Chargehand painter
Chargehand painter
Chargehand S/by stagehand
Supv plasterer
Chargehand plasterer
Plasterer's labourer
Supv rigger
Chargehand machinist
Sr draughtsman
Draughtsman
Modeller
Jr draughtsman
Prop buyer, Kenyan unit
Prop buyer, Kenyan unit
Const Turkana, Kenyan unit
COSTUMES
Cost des by
Cost des by
Ward supv
Ward mistress
Asst ward
African cost coord, Kenya unit
Ward asst, Kenyan unit
Ward asst, Kenyan unit
MUSIC
Mus ed
Mus ed
Orig mus performed by
[Orch] cond by
Kora, dousongoni, tama, sussa and karinya played b
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Sd maintenance eng
Supv sd ed
ADR supv
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Sr tech
Sr tech
Opticals by
Titles by
Main title des by
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Make-up supv
Asst make-up
Asst make-up
Hairdresser
Hair & makeup asst, Kenyan unit
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Exec in charge of prod
Prod accountant
Scr supv
Prod coord
Deputy prod accountant
Loc mgr
Casting asst
Casting - Liverpool loc
Prod secy
Prod secy
Asst to Mr. Rafelson
Asst to Mr. Rafelson
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Unit driver
Unit driver
Unit driver
Loc accountant, Kenyan unit
Loc coord, Kenyan unit
Transport coord, Kenyan unit
Kenya government observer, Kenyan unit
Extras coord, Kenyan unit
Animals coord, Kenyan unit
Lions, Kenyan unit
Wrangler, Kenyan unit
Asst loc accountant, Kenyan unit
Cashier, Kenyan unit
Loc asst, Kenyan unit
Prod secy, Kenyan unit
Asst to prod mgr, Kenyan unit
Transport asst, Kenyan unit
Prod office runner, Kenyan unit
Chargehand driver, Kenyan unit
Prod driver, Kenyan unit
STAND INS
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Laboratory contact
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the biographical novel Burton & Speke by William Harrison (New York, 1982), and on original journals by Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke.
SONGS
The following appear courtesy of Nonesuch Records by arrangement with Warner Special Products: "Kawamba Dance," recorded by David Fanshawe, from the album Africa - Witchcraft & Ritual Music
"Wagogo Soothing Song," recorded by David Fanshawe, from the album Africa - Ceremonial & Folk Music
"Wagogo Marriage Ritual," recorded by David Fanshawe, from the album Africa - Ceremonial & Folk Music.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Burton and Speke
Release Date:
23 February 1990
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 23 February 1990
Production Date:
18 September 1988--early January 1989
Copyright Claimant:
Carolco Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
12 March 1990
Copyright Number:
PA454303
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Prints
Prints by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
126
Length(in feet):
12,220
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29947
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1854, Lieutenant John Hanning Speke takes leave from the British Army and arrives at a town in East Africa with a cache of weapons. The local British authority directs Speke to a Royal Geographical Society survey expedition led by Captain Richard Francis Burton, a writer and Renaissance man known for immersing himself in foreign cultures. Interviewed by Burton and his British associates, Speke explains that he shares Burton’s interest in finding the source of the Nile River. Burton believes it can be found, according to legend, in a place called “the mountains of the moon.” Joining their beach encampment, Speke goes hunting and attracts several Somali tribesmen, who follow him. Although Speke reports back that the hunters looked peaceful, Burton informs him that as a white man, he is an intruder, and puts extra sentries on duty. That night, warriors overrun the camp. Burton is injured, but escapes with his African guide, while Speke is captured. A warrior spears him in both thighs, but Speke kills the man in self defense and stumbles toward the beach, where he finds Burton. Speke returns to England to recuperate. Burton eventually joins him at the Speke estate, and asks Speke to accompany him back to Africa. Burton delivers a speech to the Royal Geographical Society to solicit funds for another expedition. While being feted by English society, Burton meets Isabel Arundell, a free-spirited aristocrat who brings a copy of one of his books for him to autograph. He recalls seeing her being ejected from the all-male Royal Geographical Society meeting when he spoke there. During a dinner party hosted by Lord Houghton, Burton verbally jousts with and humiliates book publisher Larry ... +


In 1854, Lieutenant John Hanning Speke takes leave from the British Army and arrives at a town in East Africa with a cache of weapons. The local British authority directs Speke to a Royal Geographical Society survey expedition led by Captain Richard Francis Burton, a writer and Renaissance man known for immersing himself in foreign cultures. Interviewed by Burton and his British associates, Speke explains that he shares Burton’s interest in finding the source of the Nile River. Burton believes it can be found, according to legend, in a place called “the mountains of the moon.” Joining their beach encampment, Speke goes hunting and attracts several Somali tribesmen, who follow him. Although Speke reports back that the hunters looked peaceful, Burton informs him that as a white man, he is an intruder, and puts extra sentries on duty. That night, warriors overrun the camp. Burton is injured, but escapes with his African guide, while Speke is captured. A warrior spears him in both thighs, but Speke kills the man in self defense and stumbles toward the beach, where he finds Burton. Speke returns to England to recuperate. Burton eventually joins him at the Speke estate, and asks Speke to accompany him back to Africa. Burton delivers a speech to the Royal Geographical Society to solicit funds for another expedition. While being feted by English society, Burton meets Isabel Arundell, a free-spirited aristocrat who brings a copy of one of his books for him to autograph. He recalls seeing her being ejected from the all-male Royal Geographical Society meeting when he spoke there. During a dinner party hosted by Lord Houghton, Burton verbally jousts with and humiliates book publisher Larry Oliphant, after Oliphant tries to insult him. In Lord Houghton’s library, Isabel peruses The Perfumed Garden, Burton’s illustrated translation of the Kama Sutra, an ancient text of sexual techniques. She joins Burton during a dance and charms him. The next day, Oliphant begins a campaign to publish Speke’s letters home during his upcoming expedition, because whoever finds the Nile’s source will become rich and famous. Oliphant tries to turn Speke against Burton, and asks his publisher father to convince the Royal Geographical Society to make Speke, not Burton, the leader of the expedition, because the public wants to read about a proper Englishman rather than a rogue buccaneer who spurns British society and spends most of his time in Africa. Meanwhile, as Burton courts Isabel, she seduces him. Seeing Burton off to Africa at the London port, Isabel declares her love and gives him an amulet. Burton and Speke prepare for their expedition in an African town. A local sultan suggests Burton follow the ancient, relatively safe slave routes into “the interior.” Speke hires Sidi Bombay, an African guide who claims he speaks the languages of several tribal areas, including “the mountains of the moon.” Bombay gathers 100 African bearers for the caravan. Hoping to cover a thousand miles in a hundred days, they move inland. When they come upon a pride of lions threatening an African slave, Burton drives them off with rocks. However, a male lion attacks him from behind, forcing Speke to shoot it. Mabruki, the slave, pledges his life to Burton and becomes a trusted guide. He asks why Burton does not simply walk along the Nile until he reaches the end, and the explorer explains that many have tried, but were “swallowed up” by the desert. When a warlike tribe approaches with spears, Burton offers rolls of red fabric in trade and a deal is made to let the caravan pass. One night, a beetle enters Speke’s left ear, forcing him to kill it and stop the nerve-wracking buzzing with a surgical instrument. He is carried on a stretcher for weeks afterward. After 178 days, amid drought and famine, the men are sick and hungry. Speke hunts, but game is scarce. Bearers desert the caravan, and supplies run low. They reach a Moorish settlement, where an Arab, Ben Amir, has settled with an African tribe. Amir tells Burton and Speke there is water to the west, but the trip is dangerous. As the caravan proceeds over difficult terrain, Burton’s ankles swell from cellulitis and must be cut to “let the blood out.” He lies in a fever for three days, and Speke cradles him in his arms. The caravan resumes, carrying Burton. They find a mountain lake that the local tribe calls Tanganyika. However, when they purchase boats and explore streams and tributaries, they find only marshes. Men become sick from dysentery, and one dies. Speke decides to return to land and find another waterway. They come upon a caravan of slave traders, who tell them of another lake to the north. Soon, a warrior tribe surrounds them. The leader identifies himself as Veldu, the tribal minister, and informs them the land belongs to King Ngola. The caravan can go no further unless the leaders bring gifts to Ngola. Speke, Burton, and translator Sidi Bombay, dressed up and carrying chests of various items, enter the village and are pushed to the ground. Bombay hears Veldu tell King Ngola to kill the intruders and steal what they have. One gift, a magnifying glass, amuses the king. Burton produces a pistol and fires it, frightening the natives. Veldu aims the gun at everyone and shoots a member of the tribe. Ngola takes the three men prisoners, but treats them as guests. The king’s sister, a recent widow, is heartsick and wants the “beautiful white doctor” to make love to her. Afterward, she allows Speke and Sidi Bombay to continue the expedition with several bearers, but Burton is kept behind to insure Speke’s return. Drugged by a sorceress, Burton crawls into the king’s tent during a ceremony and sees Mabruki stabbed to death. Burton cries and embraces the former slave. Veldu insists that Ngola kill him and enslave his bearers, but the king shoots Veldu with Burton’s pistol, instead. He also returns Isabel’s amulet, which Veldu took from Burton. Speke returns with news that he found the source, a lake at a much higher altitude than Tanganyika. Burton challenges Speke’s claim because he did not follow any tributaries leading from the lake, but Speke is certain of his discovery, and has named it Lake Victoria. Burton and Speke are allowed to leave with their bearers. The trip to the coast takes seven months, and Burton stays to recuperate on the beach, while Speke returns to London. Speke takes his journals to Larry Oliphant’s publishing house and is asked to address the Royal Geographical Society. Oliphant informs Speke that Burton’s report of their first, aborted expedition painted an unflattering picture of him, but he should not worry because Oliphant destroyed it. The Royal Geographic Society treats Speke as a hero. When Burton returns, Lord Houghton meets him with the news that Speke has taken credit for finding the Nile’s source. He also ridiculed Burton, and is being sent back on his own expedition. Burton refuses to criticize Speke, who saved his life several times, and believes he will apologize. Burton marries Isabel Arundell, whose wealth provides him with the leisure to write his own book. He claims the Nile has many sources, not one, but refuses to attack Speke for his betrayal. He believes Speke’s field reports will “prove inadequate.” Elsewhere, Speke and Sidi Bombay are characters in a play about the discovery of Lake Victoria, and Speke is called to the stage to tell a story and lead the audience in a rendition of "God Save the Queen." Isabel becomes angry at Speke’s fame, exhorts her husband to fight for his own name, and urges him to take a consulate position out of the country. When Lord Russell introduces Burton to fellow explorer Dr. David Livingstone, they compare scars from their African adventures and declare how they miss Africa. Livingstone suggests that the Royal Geographical Society host a debate between the two men. In the library, Speke is given Burton’s original report, which Oliphant had claimed he destroyed. Speke is shocked to find Burton did not slander him, but rather credited him for saving his life. At the Royal Geographical Society, Isabel introduces herself to Speke and tells him he will lose the debate. Returning to his family estate, Speke goes on a hunt and purposely shoots himself. The news of his “hunting accident” arrives at the Royal Geographical Society during Burton’s speech. Urged to continue, Burton states that several lakes are the source of the Nile, then becomes too choked up to finish. He accepts a job as British consul to Brazil. A man brings Burton a clay copy of John Speke’s death mask, asking for suggestions about correcting a distortion of the face. Burton uses his fingers to correct his friend’s features in the clay. +

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

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