Mogambo (1953)

Directed by John Ford

Apparently I can’t trust anything I claim I’ll do. I said I was going to watch Marie Antoinette (and I still intend to), but last night I watched Mogambo (1953) instead.

I found it a bit slow and certainly anachronistic at the start. There was a little too much of that period (early 1950’s) machismo.

You know, Clark Gable playing the man’s man, the great white hunter and so on. (Well, it is a John Ford film.) And some of the safari footage, the hunting and trapping of animals for business and sport – well, that’s not the sort of thing I’m comfortable with.

But as mentioned, this is a film from 1953 and some of what you see in terms of attitudes is dated, which is to be expected.

mogambo02.jpgHowever, while slow to get going, things definitely pick up and improve immensely. When and how? When Ava Gardner enters the story.

Not only does she look fabulous (she is Ava Gardner, after all), but she really is the key to making this film engaging.

Not that Clark Gable and Grace Kelly aren’t fine in their roles. Well, Kelly is a bit bland but that’s partly because of the role she’s playing. (Story problem: Between the character played by Ava Gardner and the one played by Grace Kelly, Gable’s character goes for Kelly’s? Too much time in the jungle, pal. I find that storyline a bit difficult to buy.)

I’ll avoid a plot synopsis. The story is basically: Gardner falls for Gable; Gable falls for Kelly; Kelly falls for Gable. Kelly is married; husband is kind of professorial twit, obtuse, yet loves his wife. Characters battle with passions and morality. This all plays out against a safari to find gorillas in Africa.

Although that all sounds a bit lame, surprisingly it is not. In fact, it gets quite entertaining. At times suspenseful, sometimes dramatic and sometimes very amusing. And thanks to Ava Gardner’s vitality, it gets quite compelling.

This is definitely not a great movie. But it is quite good, particularly if you enjoy older movies. And if you’re an Ava Gardner fan, I think this one is a must see.

The movie is also a remake of 1932’s Red Dust, which starred Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge this film isn’t available on DVD so I haven’t seen it. That’s frustrating because many of the comments I’ve come across regarding Mogambo centre around it’s being good but how Red Dust was so much better.

It would certainly be interesting to see a younger Gable playing this role. He definitely looks like an older man in Mogambo but I couldn’t help thinking how, to our eyes, he may look older but in fact, were he that age and shooting the film today, we’d have no problem along those lines because he’d have had his hair dyed and highlighted and maybe even had a few botox shots.

Actually, I kind of liked seeing someone who actually looked older playing the lead role in something.

Stars: 2 ½ out of 4.

6 Responses

  1. Hi. I pretty much agree with your review – especially the problem with Gable’s character preferring Grace Kelly over Ava Gardner. A macho man like Victor Marswell would find Linda Nordley’s nervy reactions to jungle life intensely annoying, while a ballsy woman like Eloise Kelly would have seemed practically made to order for him!

  2. I have seen the movie Red Dust several times and prefer Red Dust. It is hard to watch Mogambo and compare the old and gray headed Clark to the young and sexy Clark Gable of Red Dust. And Jean Harlow was perfect in that movie too.

    Another thing about Red Dust is that is was a Pre code movie and was considered quite scandalous at the time.

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