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Ellen Burton arrives in Africa to join Dr. Mary as her nurse, bringing modern medicine to the native peoples. Lonni Douglas, an animal wrangler and fortune hunter, agrees to take her upriver, despite his misgivings about her suitability for Africa. They battle escaped gorillas, hostile natives, infected lion wounds, and hostile witch doctors to reach their destination and on the way, they fall in love. Will their contrasting interests doom their romance? Written by
James Callan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"White Witch Doctor," which premiered on July 1, 1953, is the type of movie that I can enjoy greatly while watching it, all the while knowing that I am not watching anything great or extraordinary. And the main reason for that enjoyment, in this case, is the presence of Miss Susan Hayward in the title role. Has there ever been an actress who combined such drop-dead good looks with extraordinary acting ability? Not for me, anyway! Hayward's sheer presence in a movie makes it hard for me to be objective in a critique; I can enjoy anything she appears in, just by looking at that marvelous face. Anyway, you know where I'm coming from. In this picture, Hayward plays a nurse who ventures into the Congo in 1907 to help out at a remote mission. Her guide is Robert Mitchum (her costar in 1952's "The Lusty Men"), who takes her into this Bakuba territory with an ulterior motive: the finding of the gold deposits that supposedly reside there. Along the way, the two encounter just about every safari-movie cliche in the book: the mad gorilla (actually, a man in a gorilla suit), a charging lion, totem fetishes warning journeyers to "STAY OUT," angry witch doctors, a rope bridge, wildly dancing natives and the like. (Sorry, no quicksand.) At one point, Hayward awakens in her tent to find a tarantula crawling on her (a "gift" from a jealous witch doctor), almost a full decade before James Bond, in "Dr. No," faced the same dilemma. I wish I could say that Susan's nurse character faces the predicament with Gems' cool, but in a situation like that, how many people could? Neither Hayward nor Mitchum travelled to Africa to make this picture (this is NOT "The African Queen"!), but there is a lot of location photography of a very beautiful order. The studio sets and actual locales are very well integrated, so the picture never really looks phony. Mitchum here plays a very likeable character, with little of the sluggish moroseness so characteristic of many of his other roles. And Hayward, "the Brooklyn Bombshell," is simply wonderful as Ellen Burton, the American nurse on her first trip into the wilds of Africa. She manages to impress the viewer and the natives alike with her medical abilities and her courage, despite an understandable scream or two when faced with the odd spider, snake, or spear-wielding native. Hayward, 35 when she made this picture, is given many close-ups that reveal what a remarkable beauty she was. In that tarantula scene, for example, director Henry Hathaway shows her lying asleep in bed, her long titian tresses framing her face in close-up, and she really does look stunning in beautiful color. Though the picture doesn't enable either of the two leads an opportunity for any great thespian displays, both manage to make the best of things, pros that they are. The picture really is a rather pedestrian affair, albeit one with great photography and yet another moody Bernard Herrmann score, but it is totally redeemed for me by the presences of the two leads...especially Hayward's. "White Witch Doctor" would make a wonderful double feature with Hayward's other African picture, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," or perhaps with a picture that came out the following year, "The Naked Jungle," featuring another redheaded beauty, Eleanor Parker, stuck in the jungles of South America. I'm not sure that "White Witch Doctor" is in the same league as those other two, but it still makes for a marvelous entertainment, and is eminently suitable for the kiddies, as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it...but, like I said, you know where I'm coming from!
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