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Crazed Director In Africa

May 7th, 2010 · 4 Comments

White Hunter Black Heart 1990 poster White Hunter Black Heart DVD

White Hunter Black Heart (1990)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Peter Viertel & James Bridges and Burt Kennedy, based on the novel by Peter Viertel
Produced by Clint Eastwood
112 minutes

Small but perfect, White Hunter Black Heart is one of the most spirited movies ever made about the movies. Instead of documenting who allegedly said what, when and where in cinema history, this richly textured adaptation of Peter Viertel’s 1953 novel — which the author scripted with James Bridges, and Burt Kennedy also did a draft of during the 30 plus years the project was in development — is compelling simply because it mines an essential element in the movie business: storytelling. Among the cast, Clint Eastwood took one of the greatest fliers of his career, playing a flamboyant film director whose hubris threatens to derail his latest project. The non-heroic portrayal alienated ticket buyers and even put some critics off at the time, but the film remains one of the crown jewels of Eastwood’s career.

Viertel based his novel on observations recorded while he polished the script for The African Queen on location with one of the great raconteurs of Hollywood, John Huston. Throughout the picture, we get the feeling a stranger at a hotel bar is telling us about the time he worked on a movie for a crazed director in Africa, loaded with the vivid atmosphere and the anecdotal asides a tale like that might encompass. The dedication to art in the face of all practicality crackles at the film’s core. Shot by Jack N. Green mostly near Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe, our experience with movies like Out of Africa begs for a romantic plot of some sort to come into play, but Eastwood commands our attention swaggering through the film and unloading his refined wit on adversaries instead of bullets.

31 Days of Eastwood

Arriving at Northolt Airfield outside London, Pete Verrill (Jeff Fahey) is escorted to a meeting with his old friend, larger than life American film director John Wilson (Clint Eastwood). Rooming at a mansion, Wilson reveals that he’s three hundred thousand dollars in debt, but may have found a way to turn his fortunes around. He’s set to direct a picture titled The African Trader and wants Verrill to accompany him to work on the script in the Dark Continent, where the men will be able to bill a hunting safari on the studio’s dime. A screenwriter by trade who’d been repairing in Switzerland — skiing and working on a book — Verrill is a mere civilian compared to Wilson, a living legend with extravagant tastes and a self-destructive antipathy towards his financiers, personified by producer Paul Landers (George Dzundza).

At Lake Victoria, Wilson resists Verrill’s script revisions, which he feels complicates his rule of great art: simplicity. Wilson’s primary concern seems to be finishing a script so he can hunt an elephant. A bush pilot (Timothy Spall) flies them to a location that Wilson selected due to its proximity to big game. There, a local hunter named Kivu (Boy Mathias Chuma) earns Wilson’s respect by putting them on the trail of exactly the tusker the director wants to shoot before shooting his movie. Verrill almost quits when he realizes that Wilson is ready to jeopardize the entire production for the folly of killing an elephant. Unable to land his trophy by the time cast and crew arrive in Uganda for work, rain fortuitously delays the start of principal photography. Obsessed, Wilson heads back into the bush for his trophy.

White Hunter Black Heart 1990 Clint Eastwood Jeff Fahey Charlotte Cornwell

White Hunter Black Heart 1990 Jeff Fahey Clint Eastwood

White Hunter Black Heart 1990 Clint Eastwood Jeff Fahey

White Hunter Black Heart 1990

White Hunter Black Heart 1990 Clint Eastwood

White Hunter Black Heart 1990 Jeff Fahey

White Hunter Black Heart 1990 Boy Mathias Chuma

White Hunter Black Heart 1990 Marisa Berenson Jeff Fahey

White Hunter Black Heart 1990

White Hunter Black Heart 1990 Clint Eastwood

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 31 users: 90% for White Hunter Black Heart

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Drunk scene · Road trip

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Patricia Evans // May 10, 2010 at 1:49 am

    I like most of Clint’s films, but I particularly like this departure from his usual themes. It also proves to my mind that the man can act, something the great Pauline Kael denied. His intepretation (not necessarily imitation) of Huston is spot on.

  • 2 J.D. // May 10, 2010 at 8:20 am

    After A PERFECT WORLD, this is quite possibly my fave Eastwood film, both as an actor and a director. Once again, he deconstructs his macho, Alpha Male persona and examines the nature of obsession.

    I also love the scene where Eastwood’s character tells off that obnoxious woman with that hilarious story – classic scene!

  • 3 Joe Valdez // May 10, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Patricia: I haven’t read her reviews on the matter but apparently, Kael came out strong against Eastwood beginning with Paint Your Wagon over his seemingly inhibited screen presence and never let up. I think this is what happens when critics try to review celebrities instead of reviewing their work. At any rate, I agree with you that White Hunter Black Heart is a key film in Eastwood’s career.

    J.D.: It seems many of Wilson’s rants in White Hunter Black Heart could apply not only to critics of John Huston, but to Eastwood himself. I particularly like the one against the production manager who uses the word “Hollywood” in a condescending way. It’s wonderful to see a movie where storytelling plays such a central role. Thanks for commenting! I’m looking forward to getting to A Perfect World.

  • 4 le0pard13 // Dec 23, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    Wonderful piece to a highly underrated Eastwood film. I appreciate it more and more through the years, like many of this filmmaker’s work. Thanks.

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