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Stanley and Livingstone (1939)

Approved | | Adventure, Drama, History | 18 August 1939 (USA)
When American newspaperman and adventurer Henry M. Stanley comes back from the western Indian wars, his editor James Gordon Bennett sends him to Africa to find Dr. David Livingstone, the ... See full summary »




(screen play), (screen play) | 2 more credits »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Gareth Tyce
Jeff Slocum
Lord Tyce
Dr. David Livingstone (as Sir Cedric Hardwicke)
James Gordon Bennett Jr.
John Kingsley
Sir John Gresham
Mr. Cranston
Frederick Holcomb
Sir Oliver French (as Montague Shaw)
Brandon Hurst ...
Sir Henry Forrester
Hassan Said ...
Colonel Grimes


When American newspaperman and adventurer Henry M. Stanley comes back from the western Indian wars, his editor James Gordon Bennett sends him to Africa to find Dr. David Livingstone, the missing Scottish missionary. Stanley finds Livingstone ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume.") blissfully doling out medicine and religion to the happy natives. His story is at first disbelieved. When Livingstone later dies, Stanley returns to continue the good doctor's work (which, of course, never really happened). Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


THE MOST HEROIC EXPLOIT THE WORLD HAS KNOWN! Into the perilous wilderness of unknown Africa...one white man ventured to seek another! Heat...fever...cannibals...jungle...nothing could stop him! See more »


Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

18 August 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Stanley et Livingstone  »

Box Office


$2,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Neither Spencer Tracy nor Walter Brennan ever actually went to Africa during the making of this film. Stand-ins for both of them were used in the long shots during the safari sequences, and whenever Tracy or Brennan were shown "on safari" in close-up against African scenery, they were acting in front of a rear projection screen. See more »


Early in the film, Stanley's editor states he has arranged passage to London for Stanley on the steamer Great Eastern. The film at this point was set in 1870. The SS Great Eastern had ceased serving as a passenger ship well before 1870 and was just ending its service as a cable laying vessel. See more »


Henry M. Stanley: Dr. Livingstone, I presume?
[Henry M. Stanley said this on Friday, October 27th 1871, in reality]
Dr. David Livingstone: Yes!
Henry M. Stanley: Thank God, Doctor, I have been permitted to see you.
See more »

Crazy Credits

To the officials of His Majesty's government in British East Africa, the producers wish to express their appreciation for the cooperation that made possible the filming of the safari sequences in Kenya, Tanganyka and Uganda. See more »


Spoofed in Some More of Samoa (1941) See more »


Oh Susanna
(1846) (uncredited)
Written by Stephen Foster
Incorporated into the score often, especially in scenes with Walter Brennan
See more »

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User Reviews

The Victorian Saint and the Great Exp(lor/loit)er
20 November 2004 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

David Livingston was the greatest Scottish/British missionary of the 19th Century, in helping to spread Christianity in Africa. He also did what he could to make an end of the slave trade in Africa. Finally, a typical Victorian with insatiable curiosity, he explored much of central Africa, discovering Lake Nyasa (the third largest lake on the continent) and striving to find the source of the Nile (he mistakenly believed in an ancient story that it was a set of huge fountains in central Africa). In 1870 rumors started to spread that Livingston (who had not been heard of for several years) was dead. Probably, in the back of his contemporaries minds, were memories of the death of Sir John Franklin in 1847, while searching for the Northwest Passage. Franklin's two ships of men died of exposure and starvation, but their fate was not fully discovered until 1859. For years it was believed some of the men might still be alive. So it was reversed in Livingston's case - the worst was feared for the missionary.

Enter an American publisher of vision - James Gordon Bennett Jr. The son of a Scottish immigrant who created America's first successful daily newspaper, the New York Herald, Gordon Bennett had a scandalous and colorful career in the U.S., and finally decided to go to Paris and create a European counterpart to his American paper. He built better than he knew. The New York Herald is no longer in existence, even after it absorbed it's rival the New York Tribune to become the Herald - Tribune (the New York paper died in 1966 after a major newspaper strike). The Paris Herald - Tribune still flourishes to this day.

Gordon-Bennett Jr. was full of good ideas. He promoted ballooning and aviation (a Gordon-Bennett prize was given to balloonists for many decades).

He loved scoops. In 1871 he decided that he should subsidize a reporter to try to locate the fate of Livingston. He found a useful American reporter in Henry Stanley. He summoned Stanley to Paris.

Stanley's real name was John Rowland. He was English born, but had immigrated to America as a poor boy, went into the south, worked on a plantation and was adopted by it's owner. He adopted that man's last name (Stanley). In the American Civil War he fought as a Confederate, but deserted, then joined the Federal Navy and saw the end of the war as a Union sailor. He drifted into reporting for the New York Herald, which was how he came to Gordon-Bennett's ken.

In choosing Stanley Gordon-Bennett made a brilliant decision. The reporter had brains and determination, and he pushed through with his expedition. Finally, in October 1871, Stanley found David Livingston and made his immortal greeting "Dr. Livingston, I presume?" He stayed with Livingston for a few weeks, and then returned to England.

Despite great proof that he had found the Doctor, many people did not choose to believe Stanley. Then proof from Africa came verifying it, unfortunately it came with news that Livingston had died (in 1873). Livingston's body was returned to England - his heart was carefully removed and buried in Africa.

Now considered a "blooded" African traveler and writer, Stanley decided to enter the field of exploration. He returned several times to Africa, and would finally settle the issues of Lake Victoria (see THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON review), and Lake Tanganyika. His four treks through the African continent made Stanley the greatest of the African explorers.

But explorers, especially newspapermen, need to make a living. Enter King Leopold II of Belgium. One of the smartest monarchs of his day, Leopold managed to connive himself into the position of being owner (not monarch, but owner) of the territories that would be called the CONGO (a larger area than the nation of the Congo today). Leopold wanted the natives to be "pacified" before exploiting them as a work force to milk resources in the territories. Stanley was all too willing to be such. He earned his income - a large income. The natives were beaten, tortured, killed by Stanley and his forces of mercenaries. The Congo was organized into a mock-political colony, but in reality it was a slave labor camp that made Leopold one of the richest men in the world. It's capital would be called Leopoldville, and it's second city (with becoming grace) Stanleyville. Few in the 19th Century noticed what was happening. One was the Italian African Explorer Brazza, who tried to stop some of the atrocities and bring them to world attention. He did not succeed in the latter (Leopold was a master at killing bad news items), but a town was built in the Congo named for him - Brazzaville.

Stanley remained a British national hero until his death in 1904. That year Leopold found that the bad news finally came out - two British diplomats in the Congo, Edward Morell and Roger Casement, published documents and photographs of the atrocities. Leopold was forced to give up the personal ownership of the territories (which became the Belgium Congo). Eventually the colony was broken up into several independent countries (after long, bloody civil wars). Their current governments are not the greatest examples of democracy. But there is a universal dislike in their citizens towards the memories of Leopold and his tool. Leopoldville and Stanleyville are no longer named for them. However Brazzaville retains it's name to this day.

Spencer Tracy performance as the explorer is a good one, as is Cedric Hardwicke's as the missionary. Henry Hull is a good Gordon-Bennett (though not as colorful a newspaper editor as his great turn in JESSE JAMES and THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES). But the film is trying to tell the story on a high tone level. It properly shows the great man Livingston was, but it makes the self-centered Stanley look like he's convinced into bringing Livingston's Christian message to Africa. The real Stanley would have given lip-service to Livingston's ideals, and then pocketed his blood money from Leopold.

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