The Macomber Affair (1947)
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I found it a lot more satisfying than the later SNOWS OF KILIMINJARO in which Peck again was cast in the lead as a Hemingway white hunter in Africa. Although that film had the advantage of Technicolor and more expensive trappings, THE MACOMBER AFFAIR achieves more of an edge by being photographed in somber B&W, even though some of the stock footage and backgrounds are obviously studio shots.
Bennett is fascinating as the woman full of scorn for her husband and gradually showing her interest in Peck while Preston's resentment begins to turn paranoid. Miklos Rozsa's score gives it a film noir feeling despite the jungle setting--and it becomes a war of nerves before the satisfying conclusion.
Well worth watching for some interesting performances.
Producing this film with Robinson was Benedict Bogeaus who usually did B films with real limited production. A second unit crew did go to Africa and got some real nice black and white jungle footage, but the cast did this one strictly on the back lot. I have to give Bogeaus and Robinson good marks for editing the film shot with the cast in with the background.
In fact this film is a notch or so above Gregory Peck's second film with a Hemingway subject, The Snows Of Kilimanjaro which was shot in Africa. This one is no frills Hemingway with the exception of a changed and cop out ending to please the Code.
Gregory Peck plays the white hunter who escorts Mr.&Mrs. Francis Macomber on a safari where they are trying to recapture the magic that has gone from their relationship. Peck warns them up front that women and safaris don't mix and what follows seems to confirm his point of view.
The Macombers are played by Robert Preston and Joan Bennett and they have the much showier parts than Peck does and they make the most of it. Especially Bennett who essays one of the great bitch roles of all time, successfully poaching on a part that Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck would have gone to town with. How that woman just demeans Preston especially after he shows some understandable fear as a newbie in the jungle during a hunt for a wounded lion is really just sad.
Under Peck's tutelage who is the ultimate machismo Hemingway hero, Preston starts losing his inhibitions which Bennett cannot stand. The result is tragedy.
Hemingway's timeless writing and subject matter hold up well for today's viewer. We get a realistic portrayal of Africa that you normally don't see from American studios. The Macomber Affair is a film that fans of all the principal players and Papa Hemingway will appreciate centuries from now.
But in another sense, "The Macomber Affair" misses the point or theme entirely in the way in which a certain element of the plot turns out. This has to do with the relationship between two of the characters. (If I revealed this change I would probably be including a "spoiler," so will refrain from telling any details. If you ever get a chance to see the movie, you'll understand what I mean.) Furthermore, EVERY character is miscast, though I must say that all three of the Principal actors do their best with the parts they've been thrown.
Probably the most interesting thing about the film is that it deals quite directly with Margot's promiscuity--amazing for a movie of its time period. Despite my reservations, I highly recommend the film, and think it would be well worth re-issuing on video or DVD.
One of the reasons I think it was so good was that it left unsaid many of the things that Gregory Peck, as Wilson the safari guide, pours out at the end, as if to an audience of elementary school kids.
Papa had a little thing he used to say. If you sold a script to Hollywood, you drove up to the state line and stopped. The producers stopped on the other side of the line. You threw them the script and they threw you the check.
Peck's character of Wilson, he of the beautiful red face, as Mrs. Macomber, Joan Bennet, calls him, was based on the same character who played Isaak Dineson's husband in "Out of Africa." Not that it matters much but in real life the guide, I think his name was something like Percy or Percival, was British, and the script gives Peck some British locutions that sound odd coming from a man raised in La Jolla.
Joan Bennet is good as the bitchy wife who dominates and insults her husband, Robert Preston. Preston doesn't overplay the cowardly and henpecked bit. He simply looks too masculine to be such a wimp, so it was a good choice.
The story does enter boy's book territory though when Preston first runs from a charging lion, then finds that shooting a couple of buffalo has revitalized him and turned him into a wholly changed man, the master of his fate. It take sixty seconds to make him born again. But that's not Preston's fault. The weakness is in the script. Yes, it's true. Killing wild animals who mean you no harm makes a man out of you.
Also left out of the script -- because how could it possibly have been put in? -- is Hemingway's showing us the thoughts of the wounded lion who charges and is shot dead. (The lion on the screen really is shot dead.)
The movie could be interpreted as an insult to womanhood everywhere, but I found it a tense, concise, black-and-white movie that was a big improvement over some other Hemingway stories that were splashed across the screen in stupendous, colossal, magniloquent color and hectaphonic sound.
The score is by Miklos Rozsa, all of whose scores sounded alike, no matter what the subject. Well, I suppose he had two modalities -- dramatic and Biblical.
Right away Margaret started to make eyes at the handsome and courageous Robert Wilson in him being everything that her wimpy husband Francis wasn't. Yet at the same time in being a women she hated Wilson for going out in the bush or savanna and gunning down helpless wild animals not for food or protection but just for the sport, and getting paid to do it, of it. Francis who screwed up the hunt for a 400 pound lion by not putting it down with a kill shot later, in tracking the beast down, wet his pants and panicked when the injured lion, that Wilson put down, charged at him with his disgusted wife Margaret not far from the scene. Now more then ever trying to show both Margaret & Robert Wilson what a real man he is Francis was determined to gun down much bigger game to prove to them and everyone else his worth as a both fearless game hunter and macho man.
****SPOILERS**** It was at the cape buffalo hunt that Francis did in fact prove to himself as well as Robert Wilson that he's got what it takes but at the same time took a bullet in his back killing him! And that bullet was fired by non other then his now hunting cape buffalo and at the same time macho hating wife Margaret. With Wilson together with the two native guides Kongoni & Abdullah, Earl Smih & Hassan Said, present at the scene of the shooting it was their testimony that would in the end absolve or convict Margaret of her husband Francis' accidental death or cold blooded murder. Margaret, who was already cleared of all charges, who's to tell in what she knows about her husband's tragic death is seen going to testify to an follow up inquiry board but we never get to see or hear what she says. The movie ends abruptly as if the movie projector was shut off and not having the usual "The End" splashed across the screen or even the film's ending credits.
Joan Bennett and Robert Preston are Margaret and Francis Macomber, an unhappy husband and wife who go on a safari guided by hunter Robert Wilson, played by Gregory Peck. Margaret is openly derisive of her husband, whom she considers somewhat of a coward, and he apparently is on this safari to prove his masculinity. It isn't very successful at first, as Francis runs like a rabbit when he's charged by a lion. I don't know who wouldn't, frankly.
Margaret is attracted to Wilson -- again, who wouldn't be, it's Gregory Peck -- and he falls for her. I don't know why because she's a very unpleasant woman. When a tragedy occurs, Wilson has to decide what really happened - was it an accident or deliberate? This film is somewhat miscast, as it required a Peter Finch or Trevor Howard in the Peck role. Peck doesn't come off as much of a big game hunter. Joan Bennett's character is a little too harsh, which I blame on the director, Zoltan Korda. There doesn't seem to be any reason for his attraction to her; she comes off as emasculating.
The film has an ambiguous ending. I didn't care how it ended, which is a major problem -- you should be invested in the characters.
This is an old-fashioned macho Hemingway story that received better treatment than most of his work. Still -- Hemingway is very difficult to film due to his spare language and all that subtext.
If you like seeing animals shot and killed (though I realize they really weren't) so someone can prove his masculinity, this is the movie for you.
This adaptation is virtually spoiler-proof because it gives away the ending at the beginning. On paper it was a tersely told tale with deep subtext to which the screen version adds dollops of Freudian-tinged expository and explanatory dialogue. For a Hemingway-based film, it's quite talky. Substantial framing material has been added at the beginning and end to explain the Macombers' unstable relationship and a scene midway is awkwardly extended into physical violence to emphasize Macomber's insecurities about his manliness.
Wilson has been Americanized and prettified by the casting of beautiful young Gregory Peck, who actually better fits Hemingway's description of Macomber (played ably but unexcitingly by Robert Preston). Trevor Howard would have been a closer match; the character's colonial- era Brit-flavored dialogue, retained intact in the screenplay, often falls flat delivered in Peck's American accent and he is just too clean-cut cute to convince as a veteran hunter in the hot and dusty wilds. (It is said that Hemingway based this character on Denys Finch Hatton, the real-life big-game-hunting English lover of "Out of Africa" author Isak Dinesen; coincidentally, in the glossy 1985 screen adaptation of Dinesen's story Hatton was effectively Americanized and glamourized by the miscasting of Robert Redford.) Also retained from the original story are numerous remarks about the fair-skinned Wilson's "red face" which make no sense because (a) the film is in black-and-white; (b) Peck's complexion does not lend itself to redness, even theoretically; he is basically as cool as a cucumber throughout. Margaret Macomber's screen embodiment is straightforward and loyal to the source: a glamour puss with attitude, just beyond the flush of youth, played appropriately by Joan Bennett during that interesting phase of her career when she was working with Lang, Renoir and Ophuls.
The outdoor hunting scenes look authentic. Miklos Rozsa intensifies the proceedings with strong musical strokes, but they sound like borrowings from his "Double Indemnity" score from a few years earlier.
In this movie, all that comes across in spades. Robert Preston is Francis Mocamber, led around by the nose on a chain by his wife Margaret, played by Joan Bennett. They hire great white hunter Robert Wilson, portrayed by Gregory Peck, to guide them on safari. In the Mocamber marriage it's the wife who wears both the pants and the skirt. The trip is no picnic in the jungle but a miserable, forced emotional trek where the two men just get worn out by Margaret's constant authoritarianism and general bitchiness. Tragedy ensues who woulda guessed it?!
Not much more to be said. If you subscribe to the Hemingway universe, this movie is for you.
Joan Bennett is really something as she portrays a woman apparently trapped in a loveless marriage. Bennett is constantly condescending to her husband, Robert Preston, who gives a terrific performance as the emotionally scared man, afraid of life, a coward, who seems to attain manhood, only to meet up with a tragic end.
Peck allows his kindly image to continue as the safari leader who falls for Bennett; his part called for more rugged individualism and would have best suited Robert Mitchum.
The ending is questionable. Does the Bennett character get exonerated or imprisoned? What were the real circumstances that led her to pull the trigger?
I liked it because the cast was limited with only three principle characters: Wilson (Gregory Peck) as the guide on the African safari, and a husband and wife, Mr & Mrs. Macober (Robert Preston & Joan Bennett), with deep-set marital problems.
Perhaps, Wilson was right when he said, it is not good to take a woman on safari.
The back and forth emotions that occur on this safari mirror the stages of the safari and uncover the yin & yang of the husband and wife, and finally draw in Wilson too.
It was a good hunt and all was well.
The kills were clean---or where they?
Robert Preston (Francis Macomber) has decided to do some big game hunting in Kenya, in part, apparently to prove his manhood to his not very loving wife (Joan Bennett). Gregory Peck is the professional hungting guide. Preston runs in fear when a lion attacks, only setting up more disdain on the part of his wife. Bennett seems to have designs on Peck. During a later day of hunting, Bennett shoots her husband in the back of the head when an African buffalo charges. The question is whether it was an accident or intentional. Based on the look of Bennett's face when it happens, it seems perfectly clear that it was an accident. Back in the village, the death is investigated by Reginald Denny, the British Police Inspector. The problem is that Peck began to like the husband and questions whether the shot that killed him was actually an accident...after all, Bennett had every motive.
There are a couple of problems with this film. First, it's understandable why Bennett would be attracted to Peck, but why would an intelligent man like Peck's character be attracted to Bennett, who clearly treats her husband so poorly? The other problem is the big game sequences which probably were shot in Africa years earlier. In one, the lion that has been shot with guns only dies from a spear. Huh???
The second problem here is the ending of the film, which I found totally unsatisfactory. It just ended with Bennett walking toward the courtroom door...but we never find out if she was convicted or not. It was almost as if they ran out of money before they finished the film.
Joan Bennett is certainly not a very sympathetic character here, but it's a good (if not totally consistent) portrayal. It does show off Bennett's range when you go from this film in 1947 to "Father Of The Bride" in 1950. She was versatile in both drama and comedy. Her best scene here is when she explains why she had such disdain for her husband. In fact, it will change your whole viewpoint toward her and her husband.
Gregory Peck is fine here -- wasn't he always? Although it mystifies me why his intelligent character would fall in love with a woman like the one Bennett plays.
It isn't often than Gregory Peck was ever out-acted, but he was here by Robert Preston. I wish the script had fleshed out Preston's past just a bit more, but his acting as a man torn between wanting to be courageous, but bordering on cowardice is particularly strong. I wonder if this might not have been his best film.
The film has some good points that make it very watchable, but also some real limitations. But if you focus on Preston's character, you realize he is the movie's real strength. It's a strong "7", although the print seen on TCM is not well preserved.
Even with that said, there is not one truly likable character in this movie. We are supposed to believe that Gregory Peck actually falls in LOVE with the Joan Bennett character? She does nothing but make fun of men and snip their you-know-whats down to the size of raisins for most of the movie...then we are supposed to believe at the end that her hubby "made her that way" so it's not her fault. She also whines a lot. Peck's character might lust after her but for him to claim he's in LOVE? A bit much to swallow....
In any case the best you can do is sort of like Peck in this film and you can't stand the Robert Preston-Joan Bennett couple. It's hard to feel sorry for either, choosing to make each other miserable. I rooted for the lions and/or buffaloes to kill the whole bunch of them but knew they didn't have a chance. It would have made for a better movie.
But just remember, if you kill a lion, that's what makes you a man, according to Hemingway. If you don't, I guess you are not really a man. What an enlightened person HE was!
When the film begins, you learn that Mr. Macomber (Preston) was shot to death by his wife while they were on a safari. Was it an accident or murder? Well, it's not clear and the events leading up to it and the killing are shown through a long flashback. During this portion of the film, it's obvious the Macombers are not a happy couple. The husband is a bit of a coward and the wife seems contemptuous of him. Into this mess comes a great hunting guide, Robert Wilson (Peck). What's next? See the film.
As I mentioned above, the story was just okay and there's little I hated or loved about the film. And, unusually, I have a hard time putting down in words exactly why...but it just left me feeling curiously detached.