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In Fort Lamy, French Equitorial Africa, idealist Morel launches a one-man campaign to preserve the African elephant from extinction, which he sees as the last remaining "roots of Heaven." At first, he finds only support from Minna, hostess of the town's only night club, who is in love with him, and a derelict ex-British Army Major, Forsythe. His crusade gains momentum and he is soon surrounded by an odd assortment of characters: Cy Sedgewick, an American TV commentator who becomes impressed and rallies world-wide support; a U.S. photographer, Abe Fields, who is sent to do a picture story on Morel and stays on to follow his ideals; Saint Denis, a government aide ordered to stop Morel; Orsini, a professional ivory hunter whose vested interests aren't the same as Morel's; and Waitari, leader of a Pan-African movement who follows Morel only for the personal good it will do his own campaign. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Huston's Epic Misfire a Better 'Making of' Story than Film...
THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN, John Huston's 'Save the Elephant' African drama, based on Romain Gary's ponderous novel, was a costly, torturous misfire about which even Huston himself had little positive to say ("The pictures that turn out to be the most difficult to make, usually turn out to be the worst
like ROOTS OF HEAVEN.") While the story, of an almost fanatical idealist
and his international band of rag-tag followers, fighting against the poachers who were hunting the species to near extinction, was a timely one, the production suffered so many calamities and setbacks that what finally reached the screen bore little resemblance to the initial concept. But what a back story it had!
Originally intended to star was William Holden, who was, in real life, an impassioned activist concerning Africa and it's wildlife. With Holden and Huston attached to the project, an all-star supporting cast was easily recruited, including Errol Flynn, Eddie Albert, Orson Welles, Paul Lukas, and Darryl Zanuck's newest 'protégé', Juliette Greco. Then Paramount politely informed Holden that he had unfulfilled obligations to the studio, and they would not release him to make the 20th Century Fox production. With the other talent under contract, and an inflexible location 'start' date, Fox faced the dilemma of no acceptable 'leading man' being available at short notice...and ended up casting British character actor Trevor Howard in Holden's role. Howard, however, had no 'marquee' value, so Errol Flynn, in a decidedly secondary role, found himself the 'star' of the movie!
Huston arrived in Africa with Darryl Zanuck (the often jealous producer may have been a bit nervous having Juliette Greco working with world-class lotharios Huston and Flynn), and the 140-degree inferno quickly took a heavy toll on the cast and crew. Eddie Albert collapsed with sunstroke, and everyone except Huston and Flynn, who had each brought prodigious amounts of alcohol to consume, were soon suffering from amoebic dysentery. With the frequent production delays, Huston went big-game hunting, and philosophized to the world press. Flynn and Huston, both larger than life personalities, started arguing on set (considering the quantity of alcohol they consumed, it was not surprising!), and Flynn dared the director to fight him. While it might have been an interesting contest, twenty years before, when Flynn was in shape and a talented amateur boxer, he was long past his prime, and Huston, who had actually been a professional boxer in his youth, flattened the actor with one punch.
It was NOT a happy production!
The end result of all the suffering was a film that lacked cohesiveness, with unresolved subplots, and poorly defined characters. Huston would move on to a western with Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn, THE UNFORGIVEN; Zanuck dumped Greco and began preproduction on his epic, THE LONGEST DAY (featuring NEW 'protégé', Irina Demick); and Flynn, after a brief recurrence of malaria, would produce and star in the abysmal CUBAN REBEL GIRLS, and would be dead in less than a year.
THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN was a disaster, for all involved!
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