|"Let me jump to my own conclusions."|
|Time: 115 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Gardner) and Best Supporting Actress (Kelly).
I've never been a huge fan of John Ford's, mainly because he directed mostly westerns, which aren't really my cup of tea. The only thing I knew about MOGAMBO before I watched it was that it took place in Africa and starred three of my favorite actors Clark Gable, and Grace Kelly Ava Gardner. What I didn't expect was that I would be so utterly entranced by a film that at its core is nothing more than a silly love triangle. I usually associate with the Grace Kelly role in her movies, but in this one Gardner got the magic, making Kelly look childish, petulant, spoiled and unfeeling. There's no way in a million years Gardner would lose a man to someone like that. Maybe I liked her more because she was the American a woman who wasn't afraid of her sexuality and knew how to roll with the punches, not some stuck-up English broad afraid of her own shadow.
The film opens with Gable's character Victor, a big game hunter who sells his catches to zoos and other assorted places around the world, finding a peculiar "bird" taking a shower at his abode. Kelly (Gardner) is not particularly shocked by him finding her naked, but she keeps her dignity by not allowing him a better look. She was supposed to meet a "friend" on safari. She's travelled all the way from New York, but her party left without even leaving a note or telling Victor she was coming. Since he has no other choice there won't be another boat for a week and it's rare someone of her beauty and temperament grace their humble dwelling, he allows her to stay. As they say, one thing leads to another and the two are soon fast friends. Unfortunately for Kelly, she falls for the big lug and he's not about to let her stick around. Africa is a man's world and he doesn't need a constant companion, though he wouldn't mind catching up with her again, if the situation was right.
What soon becomes apparent is that Victor is the settling down type, just not with her kind of girl. It's pretty clear why Victor would fall for the lovely, married and sophisticated Linda (Kelly). However, it's also obvious from her arrival with her anthropologist husband that she's not cut out for life in the bush. One certainly can't blame Linda for falling for a man like Victor, considering she married at twenty and probably never felt such animal attraction to anyone before, certainly not her bookish, quiet husband. He, of course, is blind to the affair, as it never ever occurs to him that his wife would want something more than he's providing. I don't know a single woman who could resist Gable and if the man had been smart, he would have left his silly wife at home. It's here that I had a small problem with the story. It's not that Victor doesn't deserve someone like Linda, I just didn't buy that he'd want her so badly.
Kelly (Gardner) tries to put on a good face, pretending that the fact she was throw over by a man she loves for someone so obviously not right for him, doesn't bother her. But the three of them are all well aware of the emotions barely contained under the surface. Like the wildlife they are tracking, things can turn on a dime, making every encounter a potential life and death situation. Victor wants to make Linda his wife, but deep down he knows it would only bring heartache and pain for everyone involved. In the end, everyone lands on their feet, exactly where they were meant to be all along. Besides, Ava Gardner could kick Grace Kelly's butt with one hand tied behind her back. There's really no contest when deciding who the better woman is...at least in this picture. It gets a little over the top towards the end, but it never steps over the line into melodrama. Ford would never allow it. Feelings run high, but never over.
What makes MOGAMBO better than your average love triangle movie is it's great acting and exotic locations. Everyone looks fabulous standing on the African plains, dappled by sunlight. Gable all tall, tan and handsome with his trademark smile awash in khaki. Gardner with her great skin, deep eyes, quick smile and just the right touch of sexiness. Kelly with her trademark, cool, blonde beauty, quick intelligence, smoldering sexuality. It's rare to see a combination this amazing with a leading man so able to make you believe he could be loved by such different women. Though unrated this is pretty sexy stuff, even though nothing more than simple kisses are exchanged. The characters are all familiar, but each actor brings a subtext and shadings all their own. Gable is a hunter who's able to love, Gardner a woman who may have had her share of men, but is far from cheap, and Kelly her mirror image, someone just as passionate who caught all the breaks. Both women garnered Oscar nominations for their roles and you won't wonder why. They got lucky by being cast with Gable. Pretending to be in love with him couldn't have been very hard.
Most well known for his many collaborations with the ultimate cowboy John Wayne, Ford brings his great pacing, gift for storytelling and joy of the outdoors to this intense and adult romance. Lest you think this is a girly film, think again. Ford may know how to get strong performances out of his female leads, but this is no mere love story. Well, maybe it is a little...to Ford's love of his surroundings. Africa plays a fourth character in this piece, becoming an intrigral part to the turnings of the plot. This is a safari into the unknown and no one comes back without a couple of scars to mark the voyage by. As leisurely and enjoyable I found most of the film, I thought the ending quite sudden and somewhat unbelievable, but hey, that's life in the jungle, both native and urban. This is a film worth experiencing for its brilliant performances and lush scenery. Sure there have been better films since about the wonder of life in Africa, but none of them have the pure explosive star power of MOGAMBO.