Peck Fantacizes about A Gardner in Africa
It's strange how a title can attract you to watch a movie; it was certainly the case with "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" as it was the title which grabbed my attention well ahead of the cast which features Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward. Unfortunately having now watched "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" I can't say that it left any impression on me other than some wonderful wild life footage. A semi biographical look at the life of writer Ernest Hemingway this is a story all about a man on his death bed in the middle of Kenya feeling remorse for his life, his failed relationship with the woman he truly loved and his feelings of failure when it comes to his writing, haunted by flashbacks thanks to an infection in his leg. The trouble is that not only is it quite dull but with the exception of Gregory Peck it's not that well acted and so it never really draws you in to the tale of this man's life.
Having suffered a serious leg infection, famous novelist Harry Street (Gregory Peck - Only the Valiant) lays on his camp bed in the middle of Kenya preparing to die whilst his wife Helen (Susan Hayward - The Fighting Seabees) not only tries to keep him going but puts up with his delirious rants and ramblings. Those ramblings come from him looking back on his life and his love of Cynthia (Ava Gardner - The Cassandra Crossing) his one true love who were once happy together till his devotion to writing, travelling and hunting destroyed their relationship and left him tormented by the memory of the woman he lost. But that is not his only torment as he feels he's failure having prostituted his writing talents for lesser novels. But with Helen devoted to Harry she puts up with his self pity as the situation becomes more and more dire.
Now to be honest I don't know a great deal about Ernest Hemingway but enough to pick up on the semi biographical under tones which fill "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" an adaptation of one of Hemingway's own works. And as such you would think that this could be a fascinating insight into the man yet it isn't. In fact it is less of an insight into Hemingway and a rather ordinary drama about a man who feels he has wasted his life as he faces his death in the face.
Whilst "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" revolves around Harry as he lies on his death bed having suffered a serious leg infection the majority of the movie is told in a series of flashbacks brought on by the infection causing him to become delirious. And these flashbacks revolve around Harry falling in love with Cynthia but suffering a failed relationship because of his dedication to writing, exploring and hunting yet spending years trying to find her, replacing her with other women but never getting over her. All of which could have been interesting but for various reasons, mainly the acting, it feels surprisingly dull. It is sad to say that before you reach the half way mark it becomes a struggle to really keep watching because there is nothing to grab your attention. Even the big drama of a civil war fails to lift you from your slumped position.
And when we don't have these flashbacks we he have Harry suffering in Kenya, his new wife trying hard to stop him from giving up as the situation becomes more dire. Yet even here it's not that interesting thanks to poor acting and some old fashioned cliche attitudes to Africans. The only good thing about these scenes in Africa and those which punctuate the flashbacks is the brilliant footage of animals. There are the assembling masses of Vultures and Hyenas as then can smell death coming but there is also the incredible hippo footage as they bathe on mass, a series of great shots spoiled by some obvious projection effects to place Harry and his companions at the centre of it all.
The trouble with "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is that the acting feels weak and the characters themselves not much better. Ava Gardner may look beautiful as Cynthia as does Susan Hayward at Helen but they don't bring their characters to life sailing through the movie never making either of their characters 2 dimensional. Even in the big drama scenes such as Cynthia trying to tell Harry she is pregnant doesn't really deliver the big impact because it comes across as Gardner trying to look beautiful rather than distressed. Although having said that watching Cynthia start to hit the bottle especially in the restaurant scene is a piece of good acting, revealing the misery that her character is feeling thanks to Harry's single mindedness.
The only real shining light is Gregory peck and to be honest that is only during his scenes as he suffers the torment brought on by the leg infection. You do get a sense that at this point Harry is feeling remorse for a life wasted and bitter towards certain things which happened in his life. Yet sadly when we have those flashbacks Peck is as 2 dimensional as those around him, at times almost looking unsure of how he is meant to be playing Harry, either a flirtatious charmer or a serious thinking man.
What this all boils down to is that "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" ended up being a disappointment because with an impressive cast and the semi biographical nature of the story I expected something far more engaging and dramatic. The one thing which does leave an impression is the wonderful nature footage which stands out as something special in a movie devoid of special.