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The Roots of Heaven (1958)

In French Equitorial Africa, an idealist ecologist starts a campaign of public awareness to help save the African elephants from extinction.


John Huston


Romain Gary (novel), Romain Gary (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Errol Flynn ... Forsythe
Juliette Gréco ... Minna (as Juliette Greco)
Trevor Howard ... Morel
Eddie Albert ... Abe Fields
Orson Welles ... Cy Sedgewick
Paul Lukas ... Saint Denis
Herbert Lom ... Orsini
Grégoire Aslan ... Habib
André Luguet ... Governor
Friedrich von Ledebur ... Peer Qvist (as Friedrich Ledebur)
Edric Connor Edric Connor ... Waitari
Olivier Hussenot Olivier Hussenot ... Baron
Pierre Dudan Pierre Dudan ... Major Schölscher
Marc Doelnitz Marc Doelnitz ... De Vries
Francis De Wolff Francis De Wolff ... Father Farque (as Francis de Wolff)


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 <longhorn1939@suddenlink.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Of human laughter, wonder and tenderness !


Adventure | Drama


Not Rated | See all certifications »






Release Date:

15 October 1958 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Las raíces del cielo See more »

Filming Locations:

Paris, France See more »


Box Office


$4,500,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$3,000,000, 31 December 1958
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

4-Track Stereo (Westrex Recording System)



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


When Darryl F. Zanuck appeared as the mystery guest on What's My Line? (1950) just before this film was released, he said the temperatures during filming reached over 130 degrees in the daytime and only got down to 95 at night. The cast and crew were in French Equatorial Africa for 6 months making the movie and he vowed never to return. See more »


Morel: A man's never alone when he fights for a good cause!
See more »


Referenced in Bullpitt!: Too Many Teds (1998) See more »


Minna's Theme
Music by Henri Patterson
Arranged by Malcolm Arnold
See more »

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User Reviews

Adventure drama focused on defending the rights of the elephants directed by John Huston in his usual style
14 June 2016 | by ma-cortesSee all my reviews

Good film that had several inconvenient and misfortunes , as the cast and crew suffered temperatures would routinely reach 134 degrees in the day and 95 degrees at night , as the 130 people had 920 sick calls during the shooting . This is an exciting story about Morel's adventures who accompanied by a motley group carry out a real denounce against the massacre of the elephants . Morel lives in Africa and can not stand quiet on this slaughter and he , then , undertakes a dangerous travel on protection of elephants . Morel (Trevor Howard , though James Mason was considered for the role , also William Holden was originally cast with top billing ; however, he later pulled out and was replaced) starts to fight to prohibit this hunt . As he begins , nobody supports him , but thanks to an American Radio newsreader called Sedgwick (Orson Welles , his foe was normally $15,000 but he did it gratis in order to repay Darryl F. Zanuck for helping Welles find the funds to complete Otelo) he becomes a famous person . Some people come to help him , such as : the drunk Forsythe (Errol Flynn , who was then given top billing, even though Howard had the lead role, this was Errol Flynn's last major film before his death the following year others try to use him) , the magazine photographer Abe Fields (Eddie Albert , who developed an almost fatal case of sunstroke) and his lover Minna (Juliette Gréco) , among others .

This thought-provoking as well as interesting adventure movie contains a real condemnation of violence and intolerance in which an agreeable character attempts to awake the world's consciousness , being interspersed with a lot of political issues in those times of the French/British colonialism in Africa . It's a story of losers , brave and valiant roles , mixed with revolutionary interests . Nice acting by Trevor Howard as a man committed to nature and especially against indiscriminate ivory trade , determined at whatever cost to avoid the killing of elephants taking place in a French colony . In addition , the strange beauty Juliette Greco , French singer and actress , ¨Protegee¨ of Darryl F. Zanuck, who put her in a number of films in the late 50s-early 60s . Remaining cast is generally quite good , giving fantastic jobs , plenty of great actors who suffered from the heat , malaria and other tropical diseases , as temperatures during filming reached over 130 degrees in the daytime and only got down to 95 at night . As terrible heat and sickness took their toll on the cast and crew . There stand out the followings : Eddie Albert , Paul Lukas , Herbert Lom , Grégoire Aslan , Jacques Marin , and , of course , Orson Welles included . However , Errol Flynn's alcoholism had become a round-the-clock problem, and he was frequently at odds with John Huston . In his autobiography titled ¨My Wicked, Wicked Ways", Errol Flynn wrote that he enjoyed making this film more than any other.

Colorful photography in CinemaScope by Oswald Morris is spectacular and insurmountable , it was mostly made on location in Africa over five months , in the Belgian Congo and Tchad in the Northern Cameroons, where the elephants were located . As the cast and crew were in French Equatorial Africa for 6 months making the movie , and on some days it would be a four hour drive to the location and back , as they vowed never to return . It displays an emotive and sensitive musical score by the classic British composer Malcolm Arnold . The motion picture was well directed by John Huston , though he cited this film as an example of how some of the worst shoots can result in the worst films . Its tense filmmaking makes this crackerjack entertainment . The picture was made in a good time in the late 50s , 60s and 70s when Huston reappeared as a director of quality with The misfits (1961) , Freud (1962) , The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) , Fat City, (1972) , The man who would be king (1975) and Wise blood (1979). He ended his career on a high note with Under volcano (1984), Honor of Prizzi (1985) and Dublineses (1987) . Rating : 6.5/10 , this is an acceptable John Huston film , despite failing at box office , a model of his kind , definitely a must see if you are aficionado to adventure films

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