Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Macomber Affair

I'm not particularly a fan of the stories of Ernest Hemingway. However, a movie that I found worth watching even though it was based upon one of Hemingway's short stories is The Macomber Affair. It's on TCM again tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM, so you have a chance to see it and judge for yourself.

Gregory Peck plays Robert Wilson, a safari guide in British Kenya back in the days when international travel was more difficult and to go on a safari like this would be an adventure reserved for the wealthy, or at least people with pretentions of wealth. At the beginning of the movie, Wilson is returning to Nairobi from a safari with two of those people in the latter category, Mr. and Mrs. Macomber. The only thing is, Mr. Macomber is really quite dead, having been shot in the back by his wife. Clearly it's a case of murder, or is it? Wilson has to file a report on the case, and under the cause of death, he wants to call it an accident....

As you can probably guess, much of the rest of the movie is told in flashback, as we have to see for ourselves what led to Mr. Macomber's death and whether or not it really was an accident. (I suppose Hemingway could have used the device of a trial, as in The Story on Page One.) Several days earlier in Nairobi, Wilson was at the bar in one of those hotels catering to the expat crowd, where he's approached by Francis Macomber (Robert Preston). Francis wants a guide to take him and his wife Margo (Joan Bennett) on a safari. Wilson doesn't like the idea of a woman going on safari, but it's good money. Besides, Francis has what he thinks is a good reason for wanting his wife along: their marriage has hit the skids, and he's trying to patch it up. She doesn't think he's enough of a man, and a safari is just the thing to show that yes, he is a real man.

So, everybody sets off for the savannah where they are, with any luck, going to find some big game and shoot it dead. The Macombers get one tent with Wilson in another; this gives a fortuitous chance for the screenwriters to insert some more dramatic tension of the Macombers by themselves, so we can see just how bad their relationship is. And of course it's about to get much worse. The next day everybody goes out hunting for lion, with Margo going in the car with them but staying there rather than do any tracking. Francis shoots but only wounds a lion, and when the time comes to do the actual killing, the lion tries to pounce with its last energy, causing Francis to flinch. Oh, I guess he's not a "real" man, at least not by Hemingway's definition of what a real man ought to be. This only causes Margo to lose more respect for him. But we knew that was happening already, since there are obvious signs that she's falling in love with Wilson -- and the feeling might be mutual.

Fast forward to the fateful shooting. This time, the party is out hunting buffalo, with Margo still ehind in the car. The hunt doesn't go quite right, with Francis and Wilson between Margo and a wounded buffalo that charges the two men. She shoots, and hits Francis. Accident or murder? Fast forward again, out of the flashback, to an inquest to determine whether or not it was an accident.

As I said at the beginning, I'm not a huge fan of Hemingway's work, because the way he presents mascuilinity in his work gives the impression that he was some sort of neurotic playing out his own issues in his writing, as well as the impression that he was some sort of utter jerk in real life. This adaptation of his story, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber", however, worth watching. Gregory Peck was always quite good at playing morally ambiguous characters, and also looks like he could fit the part of a safari guide. Preston is a bit of a cipher, although I think that fits what his character is supposed to be. Joan Bennett does well in showing why a safari guide might fall for her even though it's against his better judgement. It's not the world's greatest movie, but it's ceratinly good enough.

The Macomber Affair doesn't seem to be avaiable on DVD, even at Amazon.

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