White Hunter, Black Heart (1990)

PG | 112 mins | Adventure | 1990

Director:

Clint Eastwood

Producer:

Clint Eastwood

Cinematographer:

Jack N. Green

Editor:

Joel Cox

Production Designer:

John Graysmark

Production Companies:

Malpaso, Rastar
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HISTORY

       As discussed in various contemporary publications, including the 14 Sep 1990 NYT review, a 12 May 1990 LAT article, and studio production notes from AMPAS library files, White Hunter, Black Heart was based on Peter Viertel’s 1953 fictionalized account of his experiences rewriting the script, adapted from a C. S. Forester novel, for director John Huston’s The African Queen (1952, see entry). According to a 16 Sep 1990 NYT article, Viertel wrote the novel White Hunter, Black Heart shortly after returning from the shoot in Africa, dismayed by Huston’s obsession with hunting elephants which put the production, and the lives of those involved, in jeopardy. Viertel, in LAT on 12 May 1990, commented that Huston was a talented filmmaker overwhelmed by egotism, and that he directed The African Queen only to satisfy his mania for killing elephants. In an 11-18 Apr 1990 article in Time Out , Huston’s assistant director on The African Queen , Guy Hamilton, concurred with Viertel’s assertion that the picture revolved around Huston’s fixation on hunting, despite the international laws that prohibited it. Hamilton’s claim that the Congo was selected as a location because it was the only region where Huston was free to shoot animals is consistent with Viertel’s novel and with the film. Hamilton’s account that Huston often preempted the production schedule for his preferred form of shooting is also reflected in the novel and the film.
       LAT notes that Viertel fictionalized the names of the characters in his novel, substituting the name John Wilson ... More Less

       As discussed in various contemporary publications, including the 14 Sep 1990 NYT review, a 12 May 1990 LAT article, and studio production notes from AMPAS library files, White Hunter, Black Heart was based on Peter Viertel’s 1953 fictionalized account of his experiences rewriting the script, adapted from a C. S. Forester novel, for director John Huston’s The African Queen (1952, see entry). According to a 16 Sep 1990 NYT article, Viertel wrote the novel White Hunter, Black Heart shortly after returning from the shoot in Africa, dismayed by Huston’s obsession with hunting elephants which put the production, and the lives of those involved, in jeopardy. Viertel, in LAT on 12 May 1990, commented that Huston was a talented filmmaker overwhelmed by egotism, and that he directed The African Queen only to satisfy his mania for killing elephants. In an 11-18 Apr 1990 article in Time Out , Huston’s assistant director on The African Queen , Guy Hamilton, concurred with Viertel’s assertion that the picture revolved around Huston’s fixation on hunting, despite the international laws that prohibited it. Hamilton’s claim that the Congo was selected as a location because it was the only region where Huston was free to shoot animals is consistent with Viertel’s novel and with the film. Hamilton’s account that Huston often preempted the production schedule for his preferred form of shooting is also reflected in the novel and the film.
       LAT notes that Viertel fictionalized the names of the characters in his novel, substituting the name John Wilson for John Huston, Paul Landers for producer Sam Spiegel, and Pete Verrill for himself, and that the death of Kivu at the end of the novel and the film was fabricated. NYT reports that director Clint Eastwood distinguished the end of the film from the novel by portraying Wilson as he overcomes his obsession, ultimately declining to shoot the elephant. In the article, Eastwood comments that he preferred to focus on the complex morality of Wilson’s obsession and the love-hate relationship between the director and Verrill. According to Huston’s autobiography, An Open Book (1980), which Eastwood reportedly used as a reference throughout production, Huston never killed an elephant while shooting The African Queen , despite his many attempts, and by the time of the book’s publication he had given up hunting altogether. Despite Viertel’s falling out with Huston and Viertel’s critical depiction of his character, Huston agreed to sign a release for White Hunter, Black Heart before reading the novel, according to Viertel in LAT .
       Viertel’s agent, Irving Lazar, states in a 14 Jul 1988 LAT article that Viertel wrote a screenplay for his novel in the early 1950’s and that Columbia purchased the project soon after. A 30 Nov 1956 news item in DV reports that the production company Hecht-Hill-Lancaster optioned the novel for $5,000 of an estimated $30,000 purchase price, and that Katherine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster were slated to star. A 28 Feb 1969 news item in HR announced that film options to the novel were purchased by Ted Richmond Productions, and that Viertel was scheduled to meet with Richmond to discuss his role as screenwriter. On 2 Jan 1975, DV reported that Richmond was negotiating with Paul Newman to play the role of Wilson, and that Lee Marvin was the first choice as co-star. The news item also states that the Columbia film’s director was Jim Bridges. According to Lazar in LAT , Bridges worked on rewrites and Walter Hill was also at one time slated to direct. Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard were also considered as leads.
       Not long before Huston’s death in 1987, director-producer Burt Kennedy purchased the project from Columbia, worked on another rewrite, and took it to Rastar, a company founded by Huston’s longtime collaborator and friend, producer Ray Stark. The company was affiliated with Columbia. A 25 Mar 1987 Var news item announced that Kennedy joined forces with Richmond to produce the film with his company Kennedy Brigade Productions. When Kennedy was eventually bought out of the project, Rastar co-producer Stanley Rubin brought the script to the attention of Eastwood, who was a close friend, and Eastwood’s Malpaso Company ultimately produced the film with Rastar. A 14-20 Jun 1989 Var article reports that Warner Bros. received over $200 million in loans from Australian investors, and White Hunter, Black Heart was one of six films set to be financed by the deal, with a $30 million budget. NYT on 16 Sep 1990 reports the film was made for $10 million.
       According to Var production charts on 19 Jul 1989, principal photography began 13 Jun 1989 at Pinewood Studios in London and in Zimbabwe, Africa. Studio production notes from AMPAS library files report the predominant locations in Zimbabwe were a national game reserve on Fothergill Island in Lake Kariba, which was the site of sets from The African Queen and where the set of the hunting lodge was built, Hwange and Victoria Falls. The final two weeks of shooting took place at locations surrounding London, England, including Wycombe Mansion and Northolt Airfield. Although many contemporary films were shot in Kenya instead of Zimbabwe, Eastwood was dissuaded by the Kenyan stipulation of reading, approving and potentially censoring the script, and their demands for bribes, according to the NYT article on 16 Sep 1990. While Eastwood was a trained helicopter pilot and personally conducted flights for location scouting, finding elephants, and transportation to Fothergill Island, the Zimbabwe government supplied military helicopters to transport the stars and for aerial photography. To help direct the African natives who could not speak English, Eastwood was assisted by third assistant director, Isaac Mabhikwa. Studio production notes state that over half of the crew in Zimbabwe was African. According to NYT , the wardrobe department used photographs from Hepburn’s The Making of The African Queen (1987) to recreate the costumes and clothing of crewmembers during the Huston production.
              White Hunter, Black Heart premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1990, but was not released in the United States until 14 Sep 1990. The film opened to mostly positive reviews.



The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Stuart Collier, a student at Georgia Institute of Technology, with Vinicius Navarro as academic advisor.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
30 Nov 1956.
---
Daily Variety
2 Jan 1975.
---
Daily Variety
2 Aug 1989.
---
Daily Variety
11 May 1990
p. 3, 27.
Daily Variety
11 Sep 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Feb 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jun 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Sep 1990
p. 10, 18.
Los Angeles Times
14 Jul 1988
p. 1, 7.
Los Angeles Times
12 May 1990
p. 1, 7.
Los Angeles Times
14 Sep 1990
p. 1, 20.
New York Times
14 Sep 1990
p. 1, 12.
New York Times
16 Sep 1990
p. 19, 30.
Time Out (London)
11-18 Apr 1990
pp. 16-18.
Variety
25 Mar 1987.
---
Variety
14-20 Jun 1989.
---
Variety
19 Jul 1989.
---
Variety
10 Jul 1989.
---
Variety
16 May 1990
p. 25.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir, Wildlife unit
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Co-prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam, Wildlife unit
Cam, Aerial unit
Cam op
Cam op, Wildlife unit
Focus puller
Focus puller
Focus puller/Loader, Wildlife unit
Focus puller/Loader, Aerial unit
Clapper loader
Clapper loader
Cam maintenace
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Grip, Wildlife unit
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed-U.S.
Asst film ed-U.K.
Asst film ed-U.K.
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prod buyer
Prod buyer
Prop master
Prop storeman
Props
Props
Props
Props
Props
Upholsterer/Drapery
Const mgr
Chief carpenter
Chief painter
Chief plasterer
Chief rigger
Stagehand
COSTUMES
Cost
Ward supv
Ward mistress
Ward asst
Ward asst
MUSIC
Mus score
Mus ed
Percussionist, Mus performed by
Percussionist, Mus performed by
Flute, Mus performed by
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Sd maintenance
Supv sd ed
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
ADR ed
ADR ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Visual eff supv
Visual eff asst
Titles and opticals
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Chief make-up artist
Make-up artist
Chief hairdresser
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting-U.S.
Casting asst-U.K.
Local casting-Zimbabwe
Loc mgr-Zimbabwe
Loc mgr-Zimbabwe
Loc mgr-U.K.
Prod co-ord
Loc co-ord-Zimbabwe
London contact
Prod runner-U.K.
Asst to Mr. Eastwood
Prod accountant-U.K.
Prod accountant-U.S.
Scr supv
Pilot, Aerial unit
Pilot, Aerial unit
Rubber Duck capt, Whitewater unit
Rubber duck lieutenant, Whitewater unit
Eng, Whitewater unit
Consultant, Whitewater unit
Helicopter pilot, Whitewater unit
Elephant handler
Monkey wrangler
Horse master
Unit pub-U.S.
Unit pub-U.K.
Loc physician-Zimbabwe
Loc physician-Zimbabwe
Nurse
Transport mgr
Asst transport mgr
Unit driver
Catering mgr
Camp mgr
STAND INS
Riding double
Stunt double Kivu
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel White Hunter, Black Heart by Peter Viertel (Garden City, 1953).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Satin Doll," written by Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer and Billy Strayhorn.
DETAILS
Release Date:
1990
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 14 September 1990
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
15 October 1990
Copyright Number:
PA487544
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo in selected theatres
Color
Technicolor®
Lenses/Prints
Panaflex® cameras and lenses by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
112
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30086
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the early 1950’s, American film director, John Wilson, gallops on horseback through the English countryside, while novelist Pete Verrill arrives from Switzerland at a nearby airstrip. He is greeted by Miss Wilding, John’s secretary, who takes him to meet John at Eggerton Gardens, explaining that the estate was lent to him by one of his friends in high society. When the friends are reunited, John asks Pete to join him on a trip to Africa to help work on the script for his latest film. John explains that the excursion will last several months, enough time to shoot the film and hunt in a safari. When Pete inquires who is funding the project, John mentions that he is not worried, even though he is still $300,000 in debt, and sees the picture as a way out of his problems. John tells Pete that he has nothing to lose, and if he is killed hunting, he will die a happy man. Later, at a meeting with the film’s financial backers, Hollywood producer Paul Landers privately tells Pete that John is increasingly unstable, and John demands that the film be shot entirely on location in Africa, despite the extra cost. While purchasing firearms for their safari and charging the expense to Sunrise Films, John aims a rifle towards the door, as his lover, Irene Saunders, enters and reminds him that they had a date. When John introduces Irene to Pete, she tells him she admired his last novel and invites him to join them for dinner, where she pitches a long-winded story to John about two dogs in love. The ... +


In the early 1950’s, American film director, John Wilson, gallops on horseback through the English countryside, while novelist Pete Verrill arrives from Switzerland at a nearby airstrip. He is greeted by Miss Wilding, John’s secretary, who takes him to meet John at Eggerton Gardens, explaining that the estate was lent to him by one of his friends in high society. When the friends are reunited, John asks Pete to join him on a trip to Africa to help work on the script for his latest film. John explains that the excursion will last several months, enough time to shoot the film and hunt in a safari. When Pete inquires who is funding the project, John mentions that he is not worried, even though he is still $300,000 in debt, and sees the picture as a way out of his problems. John tells Pete that he has nothing to lose, and if he is killed hunting, he will die a happy man. Later, at a meeting with the film’s financial backers, Hollywood producer Paul Landers privately tells Pete that John is increasingly unstable, and John demands that the film be shot entirely on location in Africa, despite the extra cost. While purchasing firearms for their safari and charging the expense to Sunrise Films, John aims a rifle towards the door, as his lover, Irene Saunders, enters and reminds him that they had a date. When John introduces Irene to Pete, she tells him she admired his last novel and invites him to join them for dinner, where she pitches a long-winded story to John about two dogs in love. The next morning, Pete tells John he likes the African script, but has trouble with the ending because all of the characters die. John explains that he doesn’t care if the film is satisfying to the audience and compares himself to a god who determines the fate of his characters. Paul enters the breakfast room and announces the film’s financial deal is finalized, but comments that he is uncertain about the ending. At a celebratory dinner with the film’s stars, Kay Gibson and Phil Duncan, and the British financial backers, Kay announces she is looking forward to the shoot and is grateful that Pete will be on location to balance out John’s eccentricities. John toasts his partners at the table, and tells Paul that he hopes he won’t have to kill him before the production ends. John and Pete fly to Entebbe, Africa, where they are met by art director Tom Harrison, squadron leader Alec Laing and unit manager Ralph Lockhart. At Lake Victoria Hotel, John introduces Pete to fellow guests Mrs. MacGregor and Dickie Marlowe, a “white hunter,” and tells Marlowe they are interested in hunting elephants. Dickie informs them that elephants are difficult to kill because they are so strong, and must be shot six inches below the eyes. Later, Pete reads John his revision of the script’s ending, but John complains it is too complicated and argues that simplicity is the key to true artistry. John then announces that he’s changed plans and they will go on safari when the script is finished, before production begins. When Tom and Alec inform them about a location in the thick jungle inhabited by large animals, John is eager to go and Pete assures them he is simplifying the script and they will be ready to leave in a few days. John attempts to seduce Mrs. MacGregor at dinner, but when she reveals her aversion to Jews and refuses to believe Pete is Jewish, John expresses disgust for her anti-semitism. Later that evening, John witnesses Harry, the hotel manager, abuse a black waiter and drunkenly tells him off, inciting a fight in which he is terribly beaten. Getting news of the fight, Paul writes to Pete, telling him to keep John in check for the next ten days until he arrives in Africa, and Pete accuses Ralph of spying on John and reporting back to Paul. As John and Pete leave for their safari, John refuses to take a call from Paul and bids the hotel guests goodbye forever. A pilot, Hodkins, flies them to a hunting camp in the Congo despite his professed inexperience. After landing, Hodkins tells Pete the treacherous ride was planned by John as a joke. At the camp, they meet its owner, Zibelinsky, and find that Ralph has already arrived. Ralph informs John that he has found a steamboat to use in the film, but warns that it is not seaworthy, and says Paul has decided to cut the rapids scene from the picture for this reason. John objects and proves the boat is durable by forcing Ralph and Pete to accompany him on a harrowing ride on the white water and they are pulled dangerously close to Victoria Falls. Later, the camp’s chief hunter, Kivu, takes John, Pete, and Zibelinsky on a daylong expedition and detects an elephant herd. After returning to the camp, Ralph informs John that Paul is furious at being ignored, but his attempt at bringing John to a phone the following day is preempted by the elephant hunt. The next morning, Kivu leads John, Pete, Zibelinsky and Hodkins to an area frequented by elephants. When Pete declines to go along with the hunters, John accuses him of acting out of fear, but he remains in the jeep with Hodkins. Encountering an elephant, John aims to shoot, but Zibelinsky warns that it is too dangerous because more elephants are approaching and likely to charge. Returning empty-handed, weak and coughing, John regrets not taking the risk and remains intent on killing an elephant. That evening, Zibelinsky explains he is leaving on another safari. Although Pete warns John that Paul and the film crew are arriving in Entebbe in two days, and that production must begin, John insists on staying at the camp until his hunt is successful. Pete criticizes John for ruining the film through his crime of destroying a noble creature, but John argues that his actions are a not a crime, but a sin, legal with a license. John admits that the urgency of his desire is mysterious even to himself, and Pete resolves to return to London. Back in Entebbe, the company arrives. When Paul asks Pete for the script’s ending, they realize that John has the only copy. Paul begs Pete not to leave, but Pete explains that John has a destructive “fever.” Although Pete is unwilling to reconcile with John, he agrees to retrieve the script because he feels it is his best work and he refuses to let John destroy it. Upon returning to the hunting camp, Pete learns from Ralph that John has traveled to Kivu’s village with the white hunter, Ogilvy, in search of elephants and has decided to shoot the film there. When the crew reaches the camp, John greets them, cradling a monkey, and presents a feast of a freshly killed female Reedbuck. After the meal, Paul tells John to drop the “Great White Hunter” role and resume his position as director while the crew chuckles, but John informs him hunting is a private matter. Paul contends that John’s hunting has interfered with the production, and, to prove his point, mentions that he never received a copy of the script’s rewrites. Kivu, who has worked on the script at John’s request, hands it over, but John’s monkey snatches it from Paul and pages scatter across the table as the crew erupts in laughter. The following morning, the company travels to Kivu’s village, but a storm sets in while they prepare to shoot. As John announces shooting will be postponed and leaves on a hunt, Ralph drunkenly explains that when he warned John it is rainy season, John was pleased by the opportunity to shoot elephants instead of film. When the rains clear five days later, John has still not killed his desired “big tusker” and the company returns to Kivu’s village. While the crew is setting up, however, a boy informs Ogilvy that Kivu has come upon an elephant herd three miles from the village. Skeptical of John’s claim that he will soon return to the set, Paul sends Pete along with the hunters at John’s suggestion. When they arrive, they leave the boy at the jeep, and although Pete encourages John to turn back, he follows him into the bush. They encounter a large elephant surrounded by cows and their young, but despite Ogilvy’s objections, John proceeds forward, claiming that Kivu is willing. As he readies his rifle and prepares to shoot, the large elephant charges, then stops several feet in front of him. Face to face with the elephant, John backs down and turns to leave, but a baby elephant wanders toward the men, causing the elephant to charge again. As Kivu knocks John aside and runs in front of the elephant, he is impaled on one of its tusks and John watches in horror. When they return to the village, the boy informs the inhabitants of Kivu’s death and women moan in grief while several men play drums. John asks Ogilvy what the drums are saying, and Ogilvy explains they are conveying the bad news with the words: “white hunter, black heart.” John tells Pete he was right about the film’s ending, then slumps into his director’s chair. When the cameraman informs John that they are ready to shoot, John takes a long pause and mutters, “action.” +

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