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With: Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Donald Sinden, Philip Stainton, Eric Pohlmann, Laurence Naismith, Denis O'Dea
Written by: John Lee Mahin, based on a play by Wilson Collison
Directed by: John Ford
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 116
Date: 09/23/1953

Mogambo (1953)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Big Gorilla

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Ford made Mogambo as a job for hire, the same year he made his more personal The Sun Shines Bright, but clearly sometimes inspiration comes in the strangest of places. Mogambo is a silly, laid-back Hollywood romance with an exotic setting, but it's nonetheless quite affecting and satisfying.

Clark Gable stars as big game hunter Victor Marswell, essentially reprising a role he had played twenty years earlier in Victor Fleming's Red Dust (1932). Trouble comes when a good-time, bad-luck girl, Eloise (Ava Gardner), arrives, under the impression that a rich maharaja was going to take her on safari. Instead she's stuck for several weeks until a boat can take her back to civilization. Meanwhile, a British gorilla scientist, Donald Nordley (Donald Sinden), turns up with his astoundingly beautiful wife, Linda (Grace Kelly), in tow. She's never seen anyone quite like Victor and falls head over heels for him. Trouble is, Eloise has fallen for him too.

Ford is somehow perfectly in his element here, thinking about what makes a man and what makes men and women attracted to one another. The director found his secret weapon with Gardner, and tends to focus the story's point of view from her; when Victor and Linda can't fight their attraction for one another, it's Eloise that gets hurt far more than Linda's clueless husband. It could be Gardner's finest hour. Amazingly, both Gardner and Kelly received Oscar nominations for their performances; they both charmed voters, even though they play rivals.

In-between bouts of romance and longing, Ford gets to traipse off into the jungle for some gorilla or elephant or other wild animal action. The color cinematography is luscious and features an odd combination of actual safari footage mixed with process shots and sets. Overall, Mogambo reminded me of Howard Hawks' Hatari! (1962), though not quite as big and lovable and relaxed, but still quite potent. It's not considered one of Ford's finest moments, but as a pure entertainment, it's very much worth seeking out.

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