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White Witch Doctor (1953)

In 1907, a nurse arrives in the Belgian Congo to work for a missionary doctor but meets a grumpy animal hunter who secretly plans to search for gold in the dangerous Bakuba tribal region.


Henry Hathaway


Ivan Goff (screenplay), Ben Roberts (screenplay) | 1 more credit »


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Cast overview:
Susan Hayward ... Ellen Burton
Robert Mitchum ... John 'Lonni' Douglas
Walter Slezak ... Huysman
Mashood Ajala Mashood Ajala ... Jacques
Joseph C. Narcisse Joseph C. Narcisse ... Utembo
Elzie Emanuel ... Kapuka
Timothy Carey ... Jarrett
Otis Greene Otis Greene ... Bakuba boy


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 <james@oz.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The story of a woman who followed a dream to the end of the earth ... and found a love that will live to the end of time !


Passed | See all certifications »






Release Date:

9 October 1953 (Australia) See more »

Also Known As:

De witte tovenares See more »


Box Office


$2,020,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


King Leopold II was the exclusive owner of the Congo Free State from 1885 to 1908. The movie is set in 1907. During Leopold's ownership it has been estimated that the population was decreased by as much as 50% while profits for some years were as much as 100%. The first resource harvested was Ivory but the next, and most profitable, was rubber. Torture, killing, and mutilations were used to such an extent on the population enslaved by Leopold that the rubber crop was referred to as "Red Rubber". See more »


John 'Lonni' Douglas: We leave at dawn.
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User Reviews

Apocalypse Then
22 January 2005 | by BrandtSponsellerSee all my reviews

Lonni Douglas (Robert Mitchum) is a trapper working in Africa around the turn of the 20th Century. He captures large, exotic animals that he then sells to zoos around the world. His partner, Huysman (Walter Slezak), who is more the type to stay in the "office" and supervise, has an ulterior motive--he believes there is gold in "them thar" hills. So Douglas has been searching for the gold for years. There is only one place left to look--a remote area far up the Congo, inhabited by a tribe hostile to white men. When nurse Ellen Burton (Susan Hayward) arrives as an assistant for a doctor in a village neighboring the remote one, however, Huysman sees it as the perfect opportunity, with a benevolent "false front" presented to the tribes-people, for Douglas to take her up the Congo and search for the source of the gold.

Based on a novel by Louise A. Stinetorf, director Henry Hathaway and screenwriters Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts created a genre-spanning feast for the eyes, ears and mind in White Witch Doctor. The film combines adventure, suspense, romance, drama, intentional and unintentional humor, and an almost documentary-like travelogue through Africa.

The Technicolor cinematography is fantastic, and a great choice as we are treated to various African cultures in traditional dress, occasionally performing traditional dances and other ceremonies, throughout the film. I don't know a lot of background information on the film, but I would bet that some shots were filmed as documentary material in Africa. Possibly, some was stock footage.

But the heart of the film is Douglas, his relationship to Burton, and an often subtle, mostly subtextual commentary on a clash of cultures, which was far ahead of its time. Both Mitchum an Hayward are fabulous, with Mitchum occasionally approaching an enjoyable camp in his macho swagger and Hayward, in the context of the film and its characters, showing an also ahead-of-its-time underlying strength, intelligence and independence beneath her more stereotypical initial appearance as a beautiful but dependent woman. The script has an effective combination of serious drama with the difficulties of dealing with different cultures as well as a light playfulness.

This is a little-known gem of a film that deserves a serious first or second look. A 10 out of 10 from me.

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