Monday, January 27, 2014

The Lion

William Holden was an advocate of animal conservation, the the point that he had a large interest in an African game reserve. Holden discussed that to an extent in the interview he did with Johnny Carson that's popped up once in a while as part of the Carson on TCM series. It's probably that interest which is responsible for the making of The Lion, which is coming up tomorrow afternoon at 1:15 PM on the Fox Movie Channel.

William Holden stars as Robert Hayward, a lawyer whom we first see at the beginning of the movie being picked up by a woman at a game reserve somewhere in Kenya. That woman turns out to be Robert's ex-wife Christine (Capucine, no last name). They got divorced and she stayed in Africa to marry game warden John Bullit (Trevor Howard) and retain custody over daughter Tina (Pamela Franklin). Well, that was a few years back. Tina's grown, and Christine is worried that living in the middle of nowhere in Kenya isn't good for a growing girl like Tina. Christine is more specifically concerned that under Bullit's (everybody calls him by his surname) influence, Tina is "going native". Heck, Tina considers him her father, and barely recognizes Robert.

Robert gets a taste fairly early on of how "native" Tina has gone. A monkey of some sort comes into his hut through the window, and just outside the hut is a deer-like ungulate. These are animals that hang around the compound, and not out in the nature of the reserve, because apparently Tina has treated them well enough that they're practically tame. Of course, this isn't the only animal with which Tina has what she claims is a friendly relationship. She takes Robert through the forest to see the lion who is her friend. The lion seems perfectly gentle with Tina, but growls rather menacingly at Robert. It's obviously foreshadowing something, but what?

Now you can see why Christine is worried about Tina's development, especially when you consider that Bullit has had a native shadowing Tina without her knolwedge every time she goes out. Tina doesn't want to leave because she's identifed with Bullit as her dad, and Christine is claiming to be in love with him still. But as the movie progresses, we see more and more signs that there might still be a flame for Robert burning somewhere inside. And Robert, for his part, has a court order from the divorce settlement saying that he can come and take custody of Tina at any time he wants. Now might be a good time to do so....

Meanwhile, there are also the black African natives. They have special rights on the reserve because they more or less roamed the land nomadically before the Europeans closed it to any further development as a reserve. Bullit has a reasonably good working relationship with them, but of course Robert knows nothing about their ways. And sure enough, tribal customs are going to clash with western customs thanks to Robert's not understanding the tribe; this causes more problems for Tina as well.

The plot of The Lion is somewhat conventional, seeming vaguely reminiscent of parts of The Yearling or Old Yeller. It's also a bit muddled, what with combining the family drama with the native stuff. In some ways, this is too bad, because there's a lot of lovely location shooting of wildlife. On the other hand, that footage is combined with some very obvious rear-projection photography. Like everything else in the movie, it's symptomatic of the idea that everybody was really trying, but the movie is never quite successful. And that goes for the Fox Movie Channel too. The last time they showed this, the print seemed to be in the Cinemascope aspect ratio. But, it was not only letterboxed, but pillarboxed as well. Amazon suggests that The Lion is available on Amazon instant video, but there's no hard-copy DVD available.

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