White Hunter, Black Heart

Clint Eastwood raises hell and finds his heart of darkness in this film version of Peter Viertel’s novel of the same name, a semi-fictionalized account of Viertel’s experiences with John Huston in Africa while polishing the script for The African Queen. As in the book, Huston is called “John Wilson,” but as Clint plays him there’s no doubt as to who he’s supposed to be. Huston’s voice and mannerisms do a lot for Eastwood’s acting, though the performance rarely moves beyond imitation. Clint is hearty and more immediately likable than usual; if he couldn’t convince us that Wilson/Huston charmed his friends even as they hated him, there wouldn’t be a movie.

The narrative follows Wilson on his quest for an elephant he wants to shoot — “the Big Tusker” — and ends with him getting ready to film The African Queen after his last expedition has gotten a native guide killed. The best sequence has Wilson insulting an anti-Semitic woman and then duking it out with a slimy hotel employee who abuses the African waiters. “First we fought the preliminary round for the k—s,” he says, “and now we’re gonna fight the main event for the n—–s.” The line perfectly sums up the mystery of Huston, who tells his writer, “Of course you wouldn’t understand me. I don’t understand myself.” The movie didn’t score with Eastwood fans but will probably come to be considered one of his best “personal” films.

Explore posts in the same categories: adaptation, biopic

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