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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 <email@example.com>
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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It's about an ex-soldier, Morel (played by Trevor Howard), who has come to Africa to protect elephants against extinction. He sees them as noble animals and as 'roots of heaven', that is creatures made by God. First, no one is on his side, but later he manages to find some supporters. The authorities are after them, and they also have to defend themselves against some hunters who want to kill a large herd of elephants.
It was interesting to see how and for what motives some of the characters change their attitudes towards Morel. Some of his pursuers stop pursuing him or even start to help him, and some of his followers leave him and take part in hunting the large elephant herd. I found the character Waitari, an African freedom fighter, to be especially interesting. He has many difficulties. The French colonial authorities are after him, he wants to protect the elephants because they are a symbol of African freedom, he needs money for weapons, and he has to try to control his followers, who want to start an armed fight against the French although it is (probably) too early for that.
At first I didn't like Morel very much. I thought that the priest was right who scolds him for loving animals more than human beings, who need help more than animals. (And as far as I know elephants can be very dangerous. I've seen a documentary about that. When you are in a forest that they see as their territory (that you have trespassed on), they first approach you, and you can't hear them because their feet are so soft. Then they grab you with their trunks and hurl you through the air. A few people die that way every year.) But later in the movie one learns how Morel came to love elephants so much: he was a soldier in WW II, and during the years he had to spend in a prison camp, he read books about elephants. They became a symbol of freedom for him. So I understood and liked him better, and there's nothing wrong about protecting animals anyway (although I think that fighting hunger in the world is still more important.) Plus Howard acts really well in my opinion.
The main reason I watched this movie is that I have been a fan of Errol Flynn ever since I first saw him in 'The Sea Hawk'. In this one, he gets top billing, but he is a supporting actor only. (As I've said before Trevor Howard plays the hero, but the producers probably thought he was not famous enough to get top billing). I think his acting is good. But I think some scenes were very easy to play for him anyway; he plays an alcoholic, and in some scenes he looks as if he was really drunk (when he arrives, with Greco, at the tribal village). (That's what's called 'method acting' ;)
I also usually like films starring or directed by Welles or Huston. Welles only has a small part and I think he overacts, but that doesn't matter because he is really funny in my opinion. The direction is mostly good, as far as I can tell, but some of it could have been done better: there are some long shots of elephants that don't seem to fit in very well with the other shots. Or is this perhaps the editor's (not the director's) fault? I don't know. (There are also some blue-screen shots that don't look very good.)
All in all, I really liked this movie. I think it has some minor flaws, and I didn't like it as much as, for example, 'The Sea Hawk' and 'The Maltese Falcon'. But, as I've said before, I liked both the story and the actors, so I have given this one eight points. I also liked the music (by Malcolm Arnold).
If you like this one you might also try 'White Hunter Black Heart'. It stars Clint Eastwood as John Huston (although he's called 'John Wilson'). I liked it, too, but I liked 'The Roots of Heaven' better. And if you also find the character Waitari interesting, try 'Queimada'. It has a similar character and he's more central to the story. It's not as unknown as 'The Roots of Heaven', but still rather unknown, which is a mystery to me. It stars Brando, has music by Morricone, is directed by Gillo Pontecorvo (of 'La Battaglia di Algeri' fame), and, most importantly, its story is extremely interesting in my opinion.
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