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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:
Richard Greene ...
Gareth Tyce
Jeff Slocum
Lord Tyce
Dr. David Livingstone (as Sir Cedric Hardwicke)
James Gordon Bennett Jr.
John Kingsley
Sir John Gresham
David Torrence ...
Mr. Cranston
Holmes Herbert ...
Frederick Holcomb
C. Montague Shaw ...
Sir Oliver French (as Montague Shaw)
Brandon Hurst ...
Sir Henry Forrester
Hassan Said ...
Paul Harvey ...
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


He succeeded in the maddest quest in History...because one girl believed in him! See more »


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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 »


The first part, in Wyoming Territory during Indian wars, was filmed in Idaho, Sun Valley - not Wyoming. You can see the Ski Slope and Ski Runs for Sun Valley Resort in the background. 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 »


Referenced in The Things of Love (1989) See more »


Onward Christian Soldiers
Music from "St. Gertrude" by Arthur Sullivan (1871)
Hymn by Sabine Baring-Gould (1865)
Played when Stanley finds Livingstone and often as background music
Sung a cappella by natives
Reprised at the end by offscreen chorus and orchestra
See more »

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User Reviews

Splendid Historical Narrative
23 March 2001 | by (Forest Ranch, CA) – See all my reviews

A brash young newspaper reporter is sent into the unexplored regions of Central Africa to find a highly revered missionary-explorer who has seemingly disappeared. This is the account of their meeting - a fateful encounter which would not only transform the young man, but would profoundly change the history of Africa itself. This is the story of STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE.

Here is one of the excellent adventure films from the golden year of 1939 & it is a very enjoyable evening's entertainment. More than just that, though. It is rare for Hollywood movies of the period to show actual spiritual epiphanies in the lives of their protagonists. That STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE makes that significant attempt only adds to its prestige.

Spencer Tracy does an admirable job as Stanley, who - in the movie, at least - is basically moved or motivated by the whims of others. The two men who control his destiny, his publisher and Livingstone, could not be more different; yet each help prepare him for a profound spiritual turnabout in his life. Stanley's infatuation with a pretty English woman he meets in Zanzibar is also destined to lead only to inspiration, not love. Tracy's great skill as an actor helps make all these changes in Stanley's life clear to the audience. His delivery of one of the most famous greetings in history - `Dr. Livingstone, I presume?' - is perfect, spoken with just the right mixture of relief, awe & absolute weariness.

Walter Brennan has great fun with the role of an old Indian scout sent along to protect Stanley. Brennan - like Tracy, already a double Oscar winner - effortlessly walks away with several of his scenes. His colorful performance is a good counterpoint to Tracy's more mannered interpretation.

Best of all is the quiet, understated performance of Sir Cedric Hardwicke as the saintly Livingstone. With his comely, calm voice, Sir Cedric, who does not appear until late in the film, easily captures the attention of the viewer. He makes his character come alive and helps us understand why Livingstone was so important and revered a figure in the 19th Century. He is the very picture of vital, vibrant, muscular Christianity. Leading his native converts in a spirited rendition of `Onward! Christian Soldiers,' Sir Cedric gives the film its most delightful moments. (This rousing hymn, with words by the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, was not set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan until 1872, so it's not possible Livingstone could have sung it in 1871. A small quibble - it's still a great scene.)

The rest of the fine cast - Richard Greene, Charles Coburn, Henry Hull & especially Henry Travers - offer splendid support in small roles.

To their great credit, 20th Century Fox actually sent a crew to British East Africa to film authentic safari footage which was then interspersed with shots of the actors. These on-location scenes, under the supervision of chief white hunter Captain A. J. Klein, add a great deal of veracity to the movie, providing views of natives, wildlife & scenery not possible to replicate in a Hollywood studio. (Some of the resulting rear projection shots, with Tracy or Brennan superimposed over the real African film, are rather annoying in their fakery, but this is a very small irritation.)


As STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE deals with the lives of two men who had a profound impact upon the Victorian world, a little check of the actual historical facts is in order.

David Livingstone was born to a poor Scots family in 1813. One of seven children, Livingston's family lived in a single room atop a tenement for laborers. Although working 14-hour days in a cotton mill, he eked out the time to educate himself. Becoming a committed Christian early in life, by the age of 20 he had determined to become a medical missionary. After studying in Glasglow, he was sent by the London Missionary Society, at the age of 27, to South Africa in 1841.

Upon arriving, Livingstone walked the 600 miles to his mission station on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. He spent the next eight years very hard at work there and at his new mission at the headwaters of the Limpopo River, marrying a missionary's daughter and beginning to raise a young family. Then, feeling God wanted a change in his life, Livingstone began to explore the interior of the continent. If proper maps could be made of this vast unknown territory, he reasoned, Africa could be opened to missionaries, educators, scientists & geographers - all enhancing civilization, spreading Christianity & bringing about an end to the hideous Arab slave trade.

Thus began a life of trekking that would take Livingstone over 29,000 miles. In 1849 & again in 1851 (this time with his family) Livingstone crossed the Kalahari, making contact with the natives of the Zambezi region. Sending his family back to Britain in 1852, Livingstone spent the next four years trying to find a connection between the Zambezi and either African coast, in the hopes of opening up the interior to civilizing commerce. Although he failed in his quest, Livingstone became the first European to traverse the entire width of the Southern continent and to see the tremendous falls on the Zambezi, which he named Victoria Falls.

Returning to England in 1856 to much laud & acclaim, he was given an audience with the Queen and met with enthusiastic crowds wherever he appeared. His book, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, was a bestseller.

Back to Africa in 1858, (with an official appointment as Her Majesty's Consul for the East Coast of Africa) Livingstone's next expedition - up the Zambezi by steamboat - was met with tragedy. Members of the party, including Mrs. Livingstone in 1862, died of malaria and the river proved ultimately unnavigable. Livingstone was ordered home to London in 1864.

Livingstone remained a hero to the public and the publication of his new book, Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambezi and Its Tributaries, only enhanced his reputation. In 1866, under the auspices of the Royal Geographic Society and with the new appointment as British Consul for Central Africa, Livingstone began his last great quest - the search for the true source of the Nile. Spending the next seven years in fruitless wandering, and appalled by the sufferings of the slaves he encountered, Livingstone was broken in health and out of communication with England for nearly five years. There was enormous public interest as to his fate.

It was at this point that Stanley tracked him down, in the village of Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika, in the Autumn of 1871. After exploring near the Lake together, Stanley left in March of 1872. Livingstone stayed behind, but continued his search, although in very ill health. He died while kneeling at prayer, on May 1, 1873, at the age of only 60. As per his request, his heart was reverently buried in Africa. His porters carried his mummified body nearly a thousand miles to the sea, where it was returned to London. On April 18, 1874, Dr. David Livingstone was buried in Westminster Abbey. His epitaph, which includes a verse from St. John's Gospel, reads `Brought by faithful hands over land and sea, here rests David Livingstone, missionary, traveller, philanthropist, born March 19, 1813, at Blantyre, Lanarkshire, died May 1, 1873, at Chitambo's village, Ulala. Other sheep have I which are not of this fold; them also I must bring.'


Stanley was not, as many believe, American. Neither was he English, as the movie oddly insists. In fact he was Welsh and he was born John Rowlands in 1841, to unmarried parents. After a wretchedly humiliating youth spent in a workhouse, he sailed as a cabin boy in 1859 to New Orleans. Taking the name of an early benefactor, Henry Stanley managed to fight on both sides of the American Civil War before being discharged for dysentery.

After spending some time on Atlantic merchant ships, Stanley cultivated his flair for writing and became a newspaper correspondent in 1866, traveling with the U. S. Cavalry in its conflicts with Midwest Indians. In 1867 Stanley joined the New York Herald and soon accompanied the British in their successful excursion against the self-proclaimed Emperor Theodore II of Ethiopia.

From 1869 to 1871, Stanley journeyed for the Herald to Suez, the Crimea, Persia & India before undertaking the assignment to find Livingstone. (It was on this expedition that Stanley began the harsh, often cruel punishment of African resistance which would stain his reputation.) The film is correct in depicting the British geographical hierarchy's disinclination to initially believe his claims as to finding the old doctor. Stanley's 1872 book, How I Found Livingstone became a bestseller and answered his critics.

After reporting on the 1873 British assault against the Ashanti Kingdom on the Gold Coast, Stanley began his most ambitious & dangerous expedition yet: to fill in the blank spaces left by Livingstone's death in the knowledge of Central African topography. From 1874 until 1877, Stanley traveled across the entire width of the continent from East to West, beginning in Zanzibar and finishing up at the mouth of the Congo. In betwixt, he circumnavigated & explored Lakes Victoria & Tanganyika, and traveled the lengths of the Lualaba & Congo Rivers. He survived a horrendous cannibal attack, virulent disease and the drowning & desertion of many of his native bearers. He once again showed his ruthlessness in dealing with defiance, at one point shooting dozens of villagers that showed hostility. Of the 359 individuals that started the trip with Stanley, only 108 finished it. His 1878 book, Through The Dark Continent, answered many questions in European minds about African geography. The major colonizing powers were not slow to take notice.

In 1879, Stanley undertook the interests of Belgian King Leopold II and spent 5 years helping to open the Congo region to commerce, as described in his 1885 book, The Congo And The Founding Of The Free State.

Working for the British Crown, Stanley undertook the dangerous mission in 1888-89 to resupply & rescue the British Pasha of the Egyptian Sudan, who was surrounded & threatened by the fundamentalist Islamic forces of the mad Khalifa. This assignment, although with great loss of life, proved successful, as Stanley described in yet another book, In Darkest Africa, 1890.

Having lived through enough thrills for ten men, Stanley married in 1890 and began a series of lecture tours. In 1895 he entered Parliament and made his last tour of Africa in 1897, which resulted in his final book, Through South Africa, 1898.

Henry Morton Stanley was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1899 for his services to Britain. Sir Henry died in 1904 & was also buried in Westminster Abbey.


Together, Livingstone & Stanley hold the greatest responsibility for the exploration of Central Africa. The knowledge they gave to the world promoted Christianity in the region and helped to crush the slave trade. They also initiated the Scramble for Africa, in which the major European powers all took a chunk of the continent for themselves. This huge colonial land grab was completed by the time of Stanley's death. However, Livingstone's beneficent treatment of the Africans and his championing of their rights in no small measure helped directly influence their eventual nationalistic drives for self-determination & independence.

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