September 9, 2022 – This is one of three DVDs I picked up at two local thrift stores recently. I picked up this one because I had not watched it before and because I knew it was based on a story by Earnest Hemingway, one of the greatest of all writers.
The story opens and closes with famed author Harry Street (played by Gregory Peck of “To Kill a Mockingbird”) in a camp in a remote area of Africa near Mount Kilimanjaro. He is in bed with a bad infection. Feverish, irritable and occasionally hallucinating, he reflects on his life. His mountain of regrets, heartbreaks and disappointments rise as high above him as does Kilimanjaro in the distance.
Chief among his regrets is the loss of his first wife, Cynthia Green (played by Susan Hayward of “Seven Days in May”) who left him because of a miscarriage and his constant absences. The miscarriage is handled awkwardly in the story. When a doctor asks him how he could possibly be unaware of his wife's pregnancy, he has no answer. The doctor says, “Don't you people talk to each other?” In this case, no, they don't.
While many of the scenes set in Africa make heavy use of rear screen projection, stock footage, sound stages standing in for African locations, and other cost-cutting measures, the battle scenes in the Spanish Civil War sequences have all the real money shots. The Spanish Civil War scenes also contain some of best emotional and dramatic scenes in the film.
The lost love of Cynthia Green is not the only regret that Harry is thinking about in his African fever. He also regrets wasting his writing talent on commercially successful, but shallow, books. He is not fulfilled by his fame and fortune. He came to Africa to solve the mystery of why a leopard would have wandered to the top of one of the world's tallest mountains, Kilimanjaro. He thinks that if he solves that mystery, it might help him solve the riddle of his own life.
Dutifully tending to Harry in his sickness is his second wife, Helen (Susan Hayward of “Valley of the Dolls”) who feels that she is playing second fiddle to the memory of Cynthia Green, especially since Harry twice mistook Helen for Cynthia early on. There is no doubt that Helen loves Harry, but does he love her? That question is eventually answered in the movie.
If this plot sounds like a soap opera, that is because it is. The film's melodramatic adaptation of Hemingway's story combines different characters and story details into new and changed characters, and it completely alters the ending of the story. It turns out to be a flawed, but not entirely unsuccessful, adaptation of Hemingway's short story. It appears the movie would have benefitted if it had stuck closer to its source material. This film rates a C.
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