Arriving back at base after leading a safari that failed to trap one of the big black cats of Africa, animal wrangler Victor Marswell (Clark Gable) finds New York showgirl Eloise Kelly (Ava Gardner) taking a shower on his balcony. She was to be the guest of a rich maharajah but when the mystery man doesn't appear, Marswell is stuck with her and romance starts to bloom. British anthropologist Donald Nordley (Donald Sinden) is next to arrive with his beautiful wife Linda (Grace Kelly). Reluctantly, Victor agrees to be their guide into gorilla territory but when Donald falls ill, Victor and Linda fall into each other's arms, much to the chagrin of Eloise.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Deep in the heart of Africa, there's something pretty shallow going on. When there's no show from the maharajah, good time gal Eloise has to rely on the hospitality of the great white hunter, but Victor is a darker shade of blue after losing track of a big black cat and he doesn't mellow till bedtime. Soon invigorated by Victor's libido, Eloise angles for an invitation to stay, but Victor wants her on the first steamer out of there, especially when lovely Linda arrives with her insipid husband Donald, who is conveniently confined to quarters with a high fever.
When the steamer springs a leak, Eloise is forced to return to camp. She only has eyes for Victor (God knows why, given Gable's reputation for halitosis) but senses she might lose him to the cool and eloquent Linda...unless she hangs in there, by tooth, nail and forked tongue, by crikey!
Apart from their undeniable beauty, the verbal banter between the two combatant women is the best thing in the film. Back in the days when kids used to thrive on cowboys and Indians, pirate movies and jungle pictures, Mogambo, with its seething passion and sexual innuendo, was something a little more adult, but hey, the film is 50 years old (Red Dust more than 80!) and what was adult then is archaic now. It doesn't help that the virile rubber plantation manager that the hunky young Gable played in Red Dust (1932) has given way to a world-weary hulk who's gone grey at the temples and (it looks like) his teeth!
But the main problem with the film (apart from Ford's rather pedestrian direction) is its artificiality: the mismatch in colour and quality in the stock between location and pristine studio footage is unforgivable. Eloise arrives in the jungle with no less than 15 changes of clothing...including high heels, evening gown and a smashing all-black rainwear ensemble. This unlikely dimwit doesn't know the meanings of the words "archaic" or "anthropologist" and refers to a trapped rhino as a "kangaroo." Victor actually has to explain! When it comes to matters of sex, of course, Eloise knows a good thing once she's had it. Passing a rampant elephant while on safari, its curling trunk reminds her of "someone I know" but she is even more direct when commenting on Victor's "big ears...like an elephant about to charge."
Due, no doubt to this racy lingo, Gardner received the one and only Oscar nomination of her 60 film career. It surprised her as much as everyone else and naturally she lost to Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday while newcomer Kelly (in only her third film) also lost Best Supporting Actress to Donna Reed in From Here To Eternity.
The irony was that Gardner had travelled to Africa with husband Frank Sinatra, whose career was on the skids. The couple celebrated their first wedding anniversary in "deepest, darkest" where Sinatra pleaded with his wife to intervene in his bid to win a coveted part in Eternity, which she did, and it was Frank who won the Oscar. Perhaps the best decision Ford made was to release it without a musical score and to rely on jungle sounds and native rhythms for atmosphere. By trumpeting that Mogambo means "passion" in Swahili, MGM publicists ignored language experts, some who say that it actually means "to speak" and others who insist that it really means "big gorilla."
Published: July 15, 2004
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MOGAMBO: DVD (PG)
CAST: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly
DIRECTOR: John Ford
SCRIPT: John Lee Mahin (based on the play Red Dust by Wilson Collison)
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: trailer
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
DVD RELEASE: July 15, 2004