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|Index||18 reviews in total|
This film deserves a DVD release. Excellent script, direction, and editing carry the film into Hemingway's world. The results are excellent. The three leads do very well with their parts. I particularly liked Joan Bennett. Her cynicism and brazen effrontery towards husband Preston held my attention as she carried on an obvious affair with Peck. The dynamic between the three stars smolders across the screen as Preston attempts to "prove" his manhood by killing wild beasts. In true Hemingway style the "big game" adventure turns into one of more human proportions. Pretty bold stuff considering the Production Code was still in full swing. Reginald Denny plays with authority in a minor role.
The writing team of Casey Robinson and Seymour Bennett adapted Ernest Hemingway's "the Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" into a solid screenplay which enlarged upon the subtle themes of the original. A wealthy couple(Robert Preston,Joan Bennett) arrive in East Africa ostensibly for a safari vacation but it soon becomes apparent that they are ill-matched and resentful of each other's failings.Their safari guide,Gregory Peck,attempting to conduct things professionally,becomes an unwilling spectator to their petty arguments and vicious insults.But as the party trek through the jungle in search of game the true personalities of the warring couple emerge playing havoc with Peck's sympathies and his growing interest in beautiful Bennett.An ironic twist of events await these adventurers as they pursue game more dangerous than they bargained for. An enriching score by Miklos Rozsa,the superb direction by Hungarian director Zoltan Korda,and fine performances by the 3 principals(especially Preston's paranoid tycoon) all serve the viewer with a gripping drama.
THE MACOMBER AFFAIR has to be rated a success for the mere fact that it
finally brings a Hemingway story to the screen pretty much intact and
the way he wrote it. GREGORY PECK may not be the perfect choice to play
the guide escorting a quarrelsome JOAN BENNETT and ROBERT PRESTON on a
safari, but he acquits himself well enough in the role.
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.
This Zoltan Korda adaptation of Hemingway's bitter tale of big game hunting and marital infidelity is the best movie adaptation of this author's work I have ever seen. Only Gregory Peck seems miscast in what is basically a Trevor Howard part, but this doesn't bring the movie down, it merely limits it. As the superficially charming, boyish, gregarious and basically not very nice Macomber, Robert Preston is brilliant, and he gives a daring, emotionally open performance. Joan Bennett is good as his wife, better than Peck but not perfect casting, either. What makes the movie work is its nasty story, and Casey Robinson's excellent and correct interpretation of it. The Hemingway mood, macho and misogynist, and misanthropic more than anything else, is caught to such perfection one might almost suspect that he was technical adviser (he wasn't). British East Africa is given the Tarzan treatment on screen, typical of the forties but for some difficult to take now. I find that it works, as Tarzan and Hemingway weren't a million miles apart in temperament and values, though I imagine that Tarzan was nicer fellow to get along with.
Taking into account the shortcomings of the period: rear projection and non location filming this is a solid adventure film. Really a three person chamber piece the success or failure of the film rests on the performances of its leads and there it's on solid ground. Both Peck and Preston do good work but the standout is the under-appreciated Joan Bennett. Always at her best as a conflicted character here as a woman turned into a hard article by a bad marriage though subtle gestures and sly looks she gives the film a tough grounded center and she has rarely looked so beautiful. Not having read the book I'm not sure how closely it follows but the film does have a Hemingway feel.
According to the Michael Freedland biography of Gregory Peck, The
Macomber Affair was the second of two films he owed Casey Robinson the
screenwriter who occasionally produced and directed. The first was
Peck's debut film Days Of Glory and for the second since Robinson did
not know what he wanted to use Peck for, he let Greg pick the property.
As he had just got around to reading the story which had been published
a decade earlier in Cosmopolitan Magazine, Peck chose the Ernest
Hemingway short story, The Short Unhappy Life Of Francis Macomber, the
title shortened to The Macomber Affair for marquee purposes.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In a certain sense this IS the most faithful filming of a Hemingway
story. For one thing, it's probably the only one of his short stories
that could be made into a full-length movie without adding some
creative padding. (Cf. the first movie version of "The Killers," for
instance: it's faithful almost to the letter for the first fifteen
minutes, but then has to veer off into fantasy land to fill up the rest
of the two hours.)
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I haven't read Hemingway's short story, "The Brief Happy Life of
Francis Macomber", for years but as I recall it was one of his best.
The earth didn't move, but the story was pretty good.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
****SPOILERS**** It's in the early dawn hours when an airplane with the
body of rich tourist and safari hunter Francis Macomber, Robert
Preston, lands at Nairobi Airport that we get the story of what exactly
happened to him and how he was killed. Going out hunting cape buffalo
with his white hunter guide Robert Wilson, Gregory Peck, and man or
macho man hating wife Margaret, Joan Bennett, Francis ended up with a
bullet in his back. That while trying to hold off together with Wilson
a wounded charging 1,200 pound cape buffalo. In just how Francis ended
up that way we go into a long flashback that had to do with his martial
problems with Margaret who couldn't stand the very sight of him. Being
a coward at heart Francis loved to bully around those who couldn't
fight back. But at the same time he looked or sucked up to those who
were in positions of power over him.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Francis and Margaret Macomber, a wealthy, sophisticated American couple
whose marriage is on the rocks, go on an African safari under the
supervision of Robert Wilson, a professional game hunter. All Macomber
wants to do is to be a "real man" and prove it to his wife by facing
and killing dangerous wild animals in her presence. But then boom, she
"accidentally" shoots him in the back while trying to protect him from
the charge of a wounded buffalo. This moment is the culmination of two
days of anguish during which we have learned about Mr. Macomber's fears
and obsessions, from his panicked reaction to a charging lion, his
subsequent turmoil and feelings of personal redemption after a
successful buffalo hunt. Finally he is happy, for the few minutes
before his death. Hence Hemingway's brilliant original title, "The
Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber."
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.
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