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Mogambo

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Mogambo (1953)

     Twenty-one years after Clark Gable made the exotically set romantic triangle drama Red Dust, he made it again. Gable’s rubber plantation owner in Indochina moves to Africa to a job in exotic animal sales for Mogambo. Replace Jean Harlow‘s slutty prostitute with Ava Gardner‘s wealth-chasing show girl, and Mary Astor‘s devoted surveyor’s wife with Grace Kelly‘s devoted anthropologist’s wife, and tada! You’ve got Mogambo.

     The remake of the fantastic 1932 drama is not to be disparaged, however. Gable engages in two entirely separate movies that strongly stand the test of time on their own merits. The women, too, bring their own flavor to each character as Kelly’s unfaithful wife is more sympathetic than Astor’s, and Gardner is more emotional in her feelings for the protagonist where Harlow was more vengeful.

     In Mogambo, Gable is Victor Marswell who runs a big game trapping company in Kenya and sells the animals to zoos. Gardner’s Eloise Kelly shows up on the plant because she was expecting to meet a maharaja, who has in fact stood her up. She hangs on until the next scheduled boat several days later and in the process finds time to get under the skin of and please Vic.

     Kelly sets to leave just as Donald (Donald Sinden) and Linda Nordley (Kelly) arrive to study the behaviors of gorillas. Kelly’s boat gets stuck in the mud down river, however, and she returns to the ranch. Linda is an entirely different sort of woman from Kelly –a refined sort– and she fascinates Vic. When Donald has a bad reaction to a vaccine, the illness affords time for the two to get better acquainted. It also give Linda time to wander the ranch and get cornered by a black leopard, only to be saved by Vic. The two share a moment when it looks as though the man will kiss the married woman, but she flees into her room at the last instance. Kelly, nevertheless witnesses this passage and comes to her own conclusions about the state of her own relationship with Vic.

     Everyone on the ranch opts to safari with the Nordleys as they enter dangerous territory to view the gorillas. Kelly makes a pill of herself with snide comments and innuendos, the true meaning of which only Donald seems to be oblivious. Vic and Linda’s relationship advances with a kiss and possibly more, and the man prepares to tell Donald he intends to steal his wife away.

     Mogambo is full of danger, probably more so than Red Dust. Wild animals –and hostile natives– both pose a threat to the trio of unexperienced travellers and provide amazing footage for the film viewer. It must have been thrilling to work on this movie and be friendly with giraffes, baby elephants, and baby rinos.

     It has been a while since I have watched Red Dust, but for me Mogambo did more to create sympathy for the wife character than the previous version. In the former I found myself rooting for Jean Harlow, whereas here I sided with Grace Kelly, which might be a reflection on my personal feelings for the actresses (I like Gardner less, and to that point must note she had an abortion during filming without telling then-husband Sinatra because she did not want it to get in the way of her career). I felt Mogambo spent more time developing the relationship between Vic and Linda than the earlier version and that Ava Gardner’s character resigned herself to their affair, something Harlow’s characters never seemed to do. Both women give fantastic performances and both were nominated for Oscars. Gable is his usual strong, brooding self, but he glues the plot together.

Source: My Father’s Daughter: A Memoir by Tina Sinatra

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Feature: My Momentary Celebrity Obsession – Robert Montgomery

My craze over Robert Montgomery has been going on for some time now, more than a year, I would say. Like Carole Lombard, I was first exposed to Montgomery in Hitchcock‘s only purely comedic American endeavor, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The movie is a riot, and I regret the duo did not work together more. Montgomery won me over by being both funny and unrelentingly handsome/charming.

Robert Montgomery

Not long thereafter I caught Montgomery in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, based on the play (which would later become a Warren Beatty movie) “Heaven Can Wait.” He plays a boxer whose life is taken prematurely and so the folks in heaven try to find a suitable body in which he can complete is life expectancy. It is possible Montgomery has never been more funny, and the role earned him an Oscar nomination.

Romantic comedies were Montgomery’s milieu when he came to Hollywood around 1929 from the stage where he hooked up with George Cukor, thus facilitating his segue into film. He typically was cast as the socialite playboy who always got the girl despite how much of a heel his characters could be. He pressed for more dramatic roles and really showed his stuff in The Big House in which he plays a jailhouse snitch. He also got a great break when cast against type as a conniving killer in Night Must Fall, which earned him another Oscar nomination.

Montgomery would serve in the Navy during WWII and played several military parts on screen as well. When Director John Ford became ill and unable to finish directing The Were Expendable, in which Montgomery starred, the actor took over directing some of the PT boat scenes. He was officially credited as a director in 1947’s Lady in the Lake, which was shot in a first-person viewpoint from Montgomery’s character. The only time one actually sees the man is when he looks in a mirror.

Montgomery went on to host a television show, “Robert Montgomery Presents” and even had a job as President Eisenhower’s unpaid consultant, giving advice to make the leader look his best on television. This gent is also father to Elizabeth Montgomery, whom we all know as Samantha on “Bewitched”. He died from cancer in 1981 at age 77.

I have a list going of his movies that has proved a difficult feat to work through as most are not available on DVD and TCM does not air enough of his stuff. Nevertheless, I relish the opportunity to watch anything he has done.

Source: TCM.com

They Were Expendable

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They Were Expendable (1945)

     I am typically not a huge fan of war pictures but am always willing to sit through a good one, especially if it stars Robert Montgomery. A friend recently commented on this site that his favorite Montgomery pictures include this one, and I happened to have in on my DVR from TCM, so here we are.

     When I think of director John Ford, I envision truly American  and realistic films, and They Were Expendable fits that assumption. The plot line seems like something adapted from a soldier’s diary. It is an extremely linear plot following PT boat crews in the Philippines in the time following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The story follows two lieutenants – Montgomery and John Wayne – as their team endures various battles, operations and plenty of losses. The characters refer to losing “34 boat” and others rather than losing men. The emotional toll of the war cannot be found in these men but rather in the faces of young soldiers depicted in the movie. Wayne and Montgomery know their role in the war – to do what they can be endure many losses, hence the “expendable” title.

     Also included in the story is a romance between Wayne and Donna Reed, a nurse who cares for the man’s wounded hand. Reed puts on quite a good show by doing very little. The woman emits nearly no emotion while assisting in a surgical operation during an air raid. Through seemingly doing nothing, she conveys so much. At one point she almost imperceptibly bites her lower lip, saying it all. It was her role in Expendable that led director Frank Capra to select Reed as his wife character in It’s a Wonderful Life. Although the romance pops up throughout the middle of the film, it leaves the plot almost completely as the PT crews are sent on a mission from which they are not expected to return.

     Although the war effects – complete with explosions, fires, and diving planes – add immensely to the flick’s realism, what possibly makes Expendable most believable is the ending. Neither happy nor sad, the conclusion is left hanging with the viewer uncertain of what will become of our protagonists or the remainder of their troops. Expendable is not an uplifting movie but it is very well acted and visually executed.

Source: Robert Osborne

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