White Hunter Black Heart (1990)

A Little Background: Sometimes you adapt real life events. Sometimes you take real life events and people and exaggerate them to the point of being completely unrecognizable. And sometimes… you take real events and real people, slightly exaggerate them, slightly change their names, and wind up with White Hunter Black Heart.

The Film: Based on the true events surrounding the filming of 1951’s The African Queen, this film’s feeble attempts to hide the character’s true identities is almost laughable. John Huston, Peter Viertel, Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart are disguised as John Wilson, Peter Verrill, Kay Gibson and Phil Duncan. I think it’s safe to say that this wasn’t really a disguise as much as it was a license to artistically play with the facts. The plot is centered around director John Wilson’s obsession with killing an elephant… to the extent that he decides to film his next feature in Africa. In a lot of ways, the story ends up being somewhat of a hyperbolic self-portrait of Clint Eastwood. Wilson sacrifices a producer’s money, a writer’s career, and his own reputation on his strange desire. And Eastwood, eager to tell this “masked” story of John Huston’s mad antics, released a commercial flop, grossing only two million dollars on a twenty-four million dollar budget. Not all of this was Eastwood’s fault however. The public was still used to him playing the silent cowboy or the hard boiled cop, he was yet to be accepted as the producer/director. Two short years later, 1992’s Unforgiven would change all of that, winning four Academy Awards on the way. Timing really is everything, if White Hunter Black Heart is released three or four years later, maybe it’s a hit. And then maybe this isn’t the first time you’ve even heard of the title before.

Three Favorite Things: a young Jeff Fahey, a young Timothy Spall, and breathtaking on-location cinematography

 

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