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|Index||13 reviews in total|
34 out of 43 people found the following review useful:
Huston's Epic Misfire a Better 'Making of' Story than Film..., 30 October 2003
Author: Ben Burgraff (cariart) from Las Vegas, Nevada
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!
18 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
A superb film based on my all-time favorite novel., 17 July 2006
Author: rtanner-6 from United States
This was an excellent film based on my all-time favorite novel of the
same title. Both novel and film were ahead of their time in their
concern for the fate of the African elephant specifically and the
sustainability of the earth generally. The cast was superb; Trevor
Howard and Juliette Greco were perfect. (But then, so was everyone else
involved.) An important theme in both novel and film was the tendency
for others to analyze Morel's motives through their own eyes. Thus some
thought him politically ambitious, some supposed that he detested
humankind, and others found other motives. I believe his actual motives
were purer, simpler, more altruistic, and altogether as he stated them.
I would like to have used this film in my university classes, but like
an earlier reviewer I regret that it was not possible to find it.
That's a great shame.
Given the apparent unavailability of the film, I highly recommend the book - if you can find a copy! Occasionally I have challenged bright students to tell me why the character Father Tassin is so interested in learning everything he can about Morel. To help them, I have lent them not only the novel but a short book about the real-life "Tassin." One or two succeeded in making the connection and thus understanding the work at its most profound level. And it truly is profound, once you understand that connection.
Incidentally, author (and screenplay writer) Romain Gary lived an adventurous, unique life which made him just about as interesting as Morel. War hero, winner of France's highest military and literary honors, literary prankster, tragic political victim, and much more.
11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Flynn as follower to the elephants' Robin Hood, 1 December 2006
Author: Igenlode Wordsmith from England
"Turgid philosophising"... "raddled Flynn"... no-one seemed to have a
good word for this film, known chiefly for the number and variety of
ailments suffered during its filming, and I certainly wasn't expecting
Nobody told me "The Roots of Heaven" could be funny.
Nobody told me the script was ironic and self-aware, knowing what to say and what to leave unspoken and when to wear its passion on its sleeve with the straightforward and very English eccentricity of its leading character; tinged with idealism, with heroism, and with cynicism alike. No-one ever mentioned, oddly enough, that there were even any environmentalists in the 1950s -- with uncannily accurate prescience, the plot even ties in the anti-nuclear cause. Greenpeace would have had a retrospective field day!
And as for Flynn, he is having the time of his life stealing every scene he is in, whether with a quizzical eyebrow or a moment of sudden intense sympathy; the part is a gift, but he makes it something more, with the old expressiveness that always underpinned the laughter and heroics of his days as Warner Brothers' leading man. His late-career performance in "The Sun Also Rises" (which, for my money, really is turgid philosophical stuff) has been proclaimed as 'Oscar-worthy' by those eager to prove he had straight acting talent, but to my mind he shows greater depths here.
Trevor Howard is the undoubted star, carrying much of the film single-handed. He is superbly convincing in the linchpin role of the Englishman who sets out on an unfashionable one-man crusade, and -- in a tale whose wry sensibilities would not be out of place at Ealing Studios -- finds himself inadvertently the victim of human nature's instinct both to canonise and to desecrate. The character has convictions, but he is neither unworldly nor a fool, and Howard makes us believe against the odds that this unassuming type can change people. His performance is absolutely central to the film's credibility, and he makes Morel not only believable but likable.
The main flaws of which I was aware are the way that several strands seem to disappear abruptly unexplained at the ending (what of all those journalists who were about to arrive? What of the American's photographs, surely valuable evidence?) and a handful of blue-screen shots against poorer-quality backgrounds that are very obvious when viewed at cinema scale -- it might have been better to have used quick cuts back and forth between the characters and the action, rather than attempting to project them into the picture.
So far as the overall standard of the film was concerned, however, I was extremely favourably surprised; I've seen several turgid, would-be meaningful African epics, and this certainly isn't one of them. Intelligent, humorous, lightly ironic, but also genuinely stirring and mythical, the end product may have disappointed John Huston, but it was far better than I had been given -- even by the cinema's own programming material! -- to expect.
10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
One of the 'Sickest' Films of All Time, 30 June 2007
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
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
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.
8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Elephants vs. Humans: Score Zip, 22 September 2002
Author: Robert J. Maxwell (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Deming, New Mexico, USA
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoilers. It's always convenient for scientists to treat the brains --
not to say the "minds" -- of animals as black boxes. We know what goes
in ("stimuli") and we know what comes out ("responses") but we don't
know what's inside. But anyone who has owned a pet knows that the black
box has a good deal of personality inside it. (I once had the world's
nastiest canary.) The study of animal consciousness is beginning to
take form. Elephants in particular have curious traits that are
difficult to interpret without being "anthropomorphic", a bad word in
science. But Jeffrey Masson's "Why Elephants Cry" provides a good
survey of their quirks. As described in this movie, one of the
characters pumps shot after shot into an elephant before killing it.
There was just such an historical event in which a hunter, having
wounded an elephant and caused it to lean against a tree, put several
deliberate bullets into it as an experiment, to see which one would
most effectively bring it down. Observers noted that as the animal
absorbed these shots he was weeping. They are curious indeed. They take
care of their ill or disabled offspring. That much we can identify
with. But when a group comes across a long-dead elephant carcass,
thoroughly skeletonized, they get extremely excited and noisy, and they
try to actually pick up the scattered bones and carry them away. And
this we cannot understand -- not you, not me, and not ethologists. But
we WILL go on killing them, and other "game" animals, for the most
trivial of reasons -- trophies, money, folk medicine.
Morrell, the idealist in this film, says of elephants that they are the largest land animals on earth, but nothing fears them, and they fear nothing. They eat only tender greens and are harmless. The movie makes Morrell and his followers look like loonies in the context of what was then French Equatorial Africa. And sometimes the movie makers turn him into a rabid visionary, the John Brown of the environmentalists. But he's right of course and the rest of Homo sapiens who do not recognize this are self-destructive fools.
The movie doesn't come together as it should. The plot outlines are clear enough. Morrell is waging a lonely battle to save the beasts. Cheswick, a famous American hunter and journalist popularizes his cause. Morrell is then joined by other figures, some idealists and some exploiters who need the notoriety. A number of his valuable colleagues are killed in a shootout with ivory poachers. Morrell and the few survivors march off to carry on their fight. We don't find out what happens to them. And there is a girl, Juliet Greco, whose place in the narrative is uncertain. If we think about it, it seems as if Morrell may go on, but that his cause is lost, which means that the elephants lose as well. The director, John Huston, has inserted some welcome humor. A snobby boastful and very tall white huntress, Madame Orsini, gets thoroughly spanked on her bare bottom for having killed so many elephants.
The funniest episode is Cheswick's visit. Orson Welles struts around his well-appointed African camp, that sonorous baritone more pompous than ever -- "Oh, it's dangerous," he tells the audience through his microphone, "and it's tough". (Here he grabs a bottle of Vat 69 scotch with his free hand.) "But I like the danger. I'd rather be here than in the crumbling ruins of Greece. Because here is where you stand face to face with the big ones. Yes, they're big alright." (Here, he bends over a table, exposing his broad-beamed rear, which then receives a blast of shotgun pellets.) The performances are pretty uniformly good. It's nice that Trevor Howard, as Morrell, wasn't chosen because of his prettiness but because his face has character. On the whole, despite the humor, and the open-ended final scene, designed to maintain hope, it's a sad movie. It's a shame that, in going about making their livings, human beings can't confine themselves to eating water lillies and green shoots.
8 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
See Orson Welles as Rush Limbaugh! (in a vastly underrated film), 21 December 2006
Author: neal-57 from United States
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Had it been released just a few years latersay, about the time of
1966's "Born Free"this film might have achieved icon status in the
environmental movement. As it stands, it's best known for the appalling
difficulties of its location shoot in what was then French Equatorial
Africa, and as the last major film appearance of Errol Flynnwho,
although playing a distinctly supporting part, was accidentally
catapulted into first-place billing when William Holden dropped out of
the lead role of Morel, to be replaced by an equally skilled, but less
"box-office-boffo," Trevor Howard.
Actually, the book, by the wry ex-diplomat Romain Gary, is a sharp satire of dry, tongue-in-cheek delights, gentle but telling jabs at both the increasingly impotent colonial masters and the wild-eyed, stout-hearted African revolutionaries who have learned all the wrong lessons from their European masters. Some of this attitude survives to inform the filmthough not enough.
One character who does NOT spring from the pages of the book is on-screen for all of four minutes and forty-five seconds, yet he's a colorful springboard for all that is to come: Rush Limbaugh! Okay, El Rushbo had barely been born in 1958, but Cy Sedgwick, American broadcaster and columnist, as etched with relish by Orson Welles, predicts him with pinpoint accuracy: his girth, his pompous self-righteous, and his confident command of the opinions of "right-thinking Americans." Before Sedgwick's attempted safari, the misanthropic Morel's attempts to preserve the African elephants have made him a laughingstock; Sedgwick's broadcasts transform him into a cause celibre
and set the stage for the colorful characters who will follow: the haunted "hostess" (Juliette Greco), the "ancient" Danish naturalist (Friedrich von Ledebur), the Baron who has foresworn human speech (Olivier Hussenot), the colonial administrator who has arranged to be reincarnated as a tree (Paul Lukas), the opportunistic Arab (Gregoire Aslan), the would-be "African Napoleon" (Edric Connor), and the alcoholic, disgraced British officer (Errol Flynn, completing the trio of screen drunks that comprised his late-career "comeback" as a character actor.)
And one point that all Flynn biographers have missed is that his character is actually a composite of TWO from the book: Johnny Forsythe, the American who broadcast for the Communists during the Korean Warand Colonel Babcock, the "convivial English military man" whose only companion is a Mexican jumping bean named Toto.
Forgotten films CAN be rescued from obscurity: Universal just recently (December, 2OO6) released the cult classic The Spiral Road (1962) on DVD. Now, if Fox would only follow suit with The Roots of Heaven!
6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
much much better than its rep, 18 June 2006
Author: loydmooney-1 from United States
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Actually this is one of my favorite neglected films, Huston having one more of the same ilk, Kremlin Letter. Just why it and the other film have fallen so low is part of the usual blindness of the unwashed masses, often the best taking time to sift out the flashy from the good. There are very many interesting moments in this one, a lively cast, great theme, all the way from Trevor Howard to Juliette Greco. Everything is overdone in it and it makes for pretty good watching. The worst thing about it in fact is its astonishing unavailability. There has never been a film quite like it, and coming from Huston, well, it borders on the criminal that it is almost impossible to find. We can only hope that all its negatives are not also lost.
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
"You can never teach a man anything by killing him. Just the reverse you make him forget everything.", 14 August 2010
Author: TrevorAclea from London, England
The Roots of Heaven is generally regarded as minor John Huston and
remembered, if at all, for the tales of its nightmarish production as
the cast and crew dropped like flies (sometimes mid-take) in the
130degree heat in French Equatorial Africa, while the director got into
a brief punch-up with Errol Flynn (Huston won by a knockout) before
showing his dedication to the material by going off and hunting some
big game. Which is ironic because the subject matter is the very
antithesis of the White Hunter, Black Heart image of Huston, a
big-budget shot on location CinemaScope adaptation of Romain Gary's
novel about an animal rights campaigner (Trevor Howard) obsessed with
saving the African elephant who gives up on trying to change things
legally and takes direct action a bit far when he starts hunting the
hunters. Although he never actually kills, along the way he becomes a
folk hero and worldwide media celebrity, attracting a ragtag band of
followers with various motives: Juliette Greco's whore, top-billed but
not-in-it-that-much Errol Flynn's drunken and disgraced British
officer, Friedrich von Ledebur's disillusioned nuclear scientist, Eddie
Albert's cynical photojournalist and Edric Connor's African nationalist
who's hoping to exploit his reputation to get some publicity for his
own cause by tagging along.
It's certainly a film that was ahead of its time in 1958 and would probably fare better at the box-office today, and be slightly improved in the process. There's a lot of purple prose and speech making, some of it beautiful (especially when delivered by von Ledebur in one of his rare articulate roles), but Huston doesn't always make as much of the visual opportunities on offer or get the most out of some of his players Flynn is awful in his early drunk scenes (shot last) but rather better in his later moments (shot first) - and the sprawling script struggles at times to fit in its expansive cast (Paul Lukas, Herbert Lom, Gregoire Aslan and Orson Welles, as a bellicose TV reporter who becomes a believer after getting a load of buckshot in the rear that should probably have been played by Huston himself are also along for the ride). Howard gives it his best, but he doesn't quite manage to hold the film together as the lead despite or perhaps because of having an intriguing character to play whose faith in the animal kingdom may be a rejection of his fellow man: Howard was never much of one for psychological nuances, and it's hard not to imagine original leading man and avid conservationist William Holden bringing more genuine passion to the role had he not dropped out. Yet if there's a second-best feel to some of the casting, the film is unusual and intriguing enough to survive the occasional bump in the road and come out ahead.
7 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Roots of Heaven: A muddled Script?, 7 May 2002
Author: elsaesser3 from North Central Oklahoma
Have lately been reading Zolotow's Book about Billy Wilder wherein he relates the following: Wilder encountered by chance Romain Cary in John Huston's office and told him(in so many words) that he didn't think the shooting script for "Roots," was very good. Naturally, Cary was less than thrilled with this remark and riposted with several remarks of his own that were probably less than well thought out. I've always been a fan of Wilder and respected(nay, admired)most of his work; obviously feel the same about Huston and "Roots," so how does one "digest," all this,ie what's the point? No doubt, there's some problems with the script. It does have a on site improvised feel to it-when we see Errol Flynn on screen, the dysfunction's palpable-which shouldn't be all that much of a bad thing. After all, Wilder himself usually started production with most of the script still in his head, so why the problem. Probably because "Roots," is about people searching for something-if the title hadn't been retired with Robert Ruark's novel and film,also about African themes-Something of Value. Morell, one of the few in the film who's entirely clear about what's real and valuable in this life, knows that it's the animals that need protecting and conserving and sometimes not the people. Muddled perhaps? Probably, but clearly at odds with 50's era sentiment. Still, after all this time(64 maybe, since I first saw it NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies)the visual ambience holds up admirably as does Malcolm Arnold's score-as transcendent as anything he's ever written for film. I wish it were available on VHS.
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Good cast, dull film, 23 July 2009
Author: boscofl from United States
I can't say I really enjoyed this film but as a fan of both Flynn and
Welles it was rewarding to watch. Considering how terrible he looked
earlier in "Istanbul" and "The Sun Also Rises" Flynn looks relatively
spry and rugged in what would prove to be his last real film role.
Although he has little to do his is a likable character and one cannot
help but feel a strong parallel between the role of Forsythe and the
man portraying him. There is a sense of regret and bitterness in
Forsythe that Flynn no doubt felt in his own life. As for Welles, he is
amusing in a 5 minute role and his appearance made me immediately think
of Jackie Gleason in the "Smokey and the Bandit" films.
The film itself is too long and hammers home its point with the delicacy of a sledgehammer. William Holden would have been great as Morel; Trevor Howard is too abrasive and difficult to sympathize with. Eddie Albert & Herbert Lom are wasted while Paul Lukas disappears midway through the film. Juliette Greco is fine as the heroine and manages to look glamorous throughout.
The story behind the film sounds much more interesting than the film itself. I particularly liked the story of John Huston decking Flynn after much boozing. Apparently they fought several times when Flynn was younger and in shape with Flynn beating him into submission every time. I guess Huston gained some measure of payback here by taking advantage of the declining star.
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