Stars: Clark Gable and Ava Gardner
In Red Dust he was Dennis Carson, but here he's Victor Carswell, who runs a safari business collecting wild game for zoo and circuses worldwide. He also manages to collect Eloise 'Honey Bear' Kelly, a showgirl from New York, who turns up in his shower after the Maharajah she's come to visit returns to India early. Most people wouldn't complain about such a thing, given that she's played by Ava Gardner at the height of her appeal as a sex symbol, but Carswell would like her gone. Maybe it's because she's as dumb as they come, flying thousands of miles on a whim to join a safari without even a return fare in her pocket. 'Hey, a kangaroo!' she says when they pull up a baby rhino from a pit trap. However she soon turns out to be sweet and the dumb really translates to uneducated. She has plenty of smarts of a different kind.
You can be sure they end up in the sack pretty quick but he has her out of there on a boat within the week, the same boat that brings his next customers, the Nordleys. Donald Nordley is an anthropologist ('an anthro what?' asks Honey Bear) who's come to study the behaviour of gorillas to satisfy a pet theory. He's as quintessentially English as you could expect given that he's played by a young Donald Sinden in only his third film. His wife Linda is pretty English too, though she's played by Grace Kelly, in her biggest part at that time after making herself more than a little noticed in High Noon. When Honey Bear turns up again after being shipwrecked on the way out, the sparks really begin to fly, in a few different directions all at once, only Donald Nordley being blissfully unaware of what's going on.
Ava Gardner would seem to posterity to be far more appropriate as Kelly than either Maureen O'Hara or Lana Turner, but O'Hara was the first choice. Not getting her, director John Ford apparently treated Gardner very badly indeed during the shoot and at one point Gable even stormed off set in protest. She's voluptuous and wild, very much at home in her surroundings, and an obvious match for Gable, but she was busy off set with Frank Sinatra. In fact she became pregnant with his child and headed back to London at one point during fiming to have an abortion. Kelly got the part of Linda as a third choice after Gene Tierney and Deborah Kerr, and did a fine job, stuck up for the most part but with a vulnerable edge that of course gets played upon. When she lets her guard down she's very sexy indeed, probably more so than anywhere else in her short career. Donald Sinden of course was custom made for the role he gets.
Bizarrely though there's plenty that isn't location footage too, much of the picture being shot back in England at the MGM studios in Borehamwood, and the way these different tones are edited together is sometimes jarring. I'm sure some scenes were just too dangerous to shoot with the actors in the frame, though Ava Gardner seems more than game to play with any of the animals we see, but that doesn't excuse the rest. I keep coming up against fifties movies that would have been so much better for a little consistency that wouldn't seem to be much of a stretch. It's such a shame to see films brought down a little that deserved much better. To be fair, John Ford manages to keep some tension in scenes here that waver between location footage of gorillas and obvious studio shots of Gable and his co-stars, but mostly the tension is between the actors. That side of things is very well played out indeed.