Mogambo (Ford, 1953)

Okay, the plot is pure melodrama, but talk about star power…

The story is essentially a love triangle, with Clark Gable playing a big game hunter who is sought both by the free spirited Honey Bear Kelley (Ava Gardner) and the less acclimated but still smoldering Mrs. Nordley (Grace Kelly).

MGM apparently made a lot out of the fact that they made the film on safari, and, yes, the jungle is a character unto itself. But the real scenery here is the leading ladies. I’ve had a major crush on Grace Kelly ever since I saw Vertigo Rear Window when I was sixteen, so I say it is no small accomplishment that Ava Gardner makes Gable’s choice seem like anything but a no brainer. This is in spite of the fact that the script really makes it clear that the big game hunter is supposed to prefer the blond housewife on safari. Gardner is relegated to a supporting role, but Honey Bear is full of the life, energy, and spirit that Mrs. Nordley lacks.

mogambo011Given that this is a John Ford film, I can’t help wonder if the director shared my preference for Gardner’s character–preferring a strong-willed woman to a meek and mild one. I thought I read somewhere that in some foreign or dubbed versions of the film, the audience was told that Gardner and Gable were brother and sister, ostensibly to make the film less shocking in or for cultures with taboos about what you could show on screen. I like to think that the real reason, though, is that even censors realized that there had to be some other reason that Gable preferred Mrs. Nordley to Honey Bear!

mogambograce-300x225Both Gardner and Kelly were nominated for Academy Awards, though, inexplicably Kelly was placed in the Supporting Actress category. They really are both leads, but I guess even in the 50s there was some fudging of the categories to increase one’s odds of victory. Kelly snagged the Golden Globe, but lost out on the Oscar to Donna Reed (From Here to Eternity). Gardner lost to Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. I like Audrey Hepburn as much as the next red-blooded American male, but seriously…

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