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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>
And what about the people who follow you? And love you? What of us? There lots of us, thousands and thousands who would like to do what you are doing, but they haven't the courage. They are too tired, too done for. But they understand, they know what you are trying to say! Even the stupidest, like me. They think of you, they think of the elephants, then suddenly they find themselves smiling. They can't help it! We can't help it. You must go on!
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When the original script of The Roots of Heaven was shown to John Huston, he had it in mind for William Holden to star in it. It seemed like a natural given Holden's interest in conservation. Errol Flynn remarked in his memoirs that he was looking forward to co-starring with Holden.
But Bill Holden backed out of the project and not as big a movie name, Trevor Howard, was substituted. Flynn's part was then built up though clearly he's a supporting character. In any event all these guys were just there in support of Juliette Greco who was Darryl F. Zanuck's main squeeze at the time. Ms. Greco was a better actress than that other squeeze of Zanuck's Bella Darvi and she didn't come to a tragic end as poor Bella did.
Huston maybe should have known better, after all he had done The African Queen on location in Africa already and knew the problems therein. The Roots of Heaven may have set some kind of record for illnesses among the cast, maybe rivaling The Conqueror. The most serious was Eddie Albert's nearly fatal case of sunstroke.
It was reported that Errol Flynn kept the illness at bay by consuming large quantities of gin on location. He had the most to worry about as he had chronic malaria, acquired in his youth in the New Guinea jungles that kicked up on him every now and then. Of course right after the film, he was reported to suffer a major attack of it and was in hospital for weeks.
The story never quite takes off. It's about Trevor Howard's efforts to save the elephant population and the lack of interest therein among most of the natives who depend on the ivory trade for a livelihood. Conservation is a noble cause, but it's usually talked about by those who've already plundered their area already for its resources and are now telling others what to do.
Howard's cause never quite gets off the ground and sad to say, neither does the film. Maybe it could be made today with better results.
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