Friday, June 21, 2024

Out of Africa

Once again, TCM has a pair of movies coming up on the same day tomorrow (June 22), although this time the second one comes on late in the evening so putting up a post early in the morning should give everyone enough time to see the post before the movie. Anyhow, the first of the two is Oscar's Best Picture for 1985, Out of Africa, which TCM is showing at 5:00 PM on June 22.

Out of Africa was a big enough movie that most people probably know the basic bits of the story. Isak Dinesen was the pen name of the Danish writer Karen Blixen, who published a book in the mid-1930s about her experiences in Africa called Out of Africa (no wonder the movie has such an original title). As the movie opens, Blixen (Meryl Streep) is back in her native Denmark, giving narration that is also the opening of the book. Flash back a little over two decades....

Young Karen is a young woman with a reasonable amount of money to her name who is in want of a husband, because being a spinster in the early 1910s just wasn't the thing. She's been connected to a Swedish baron, but when that falls through his younger brother Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) decides to ask for her hand in marriage. The only thing is, he's about to set off for Africa. But the two decide to get married. Karen is going to follow Bror to Africa after he gets set up, and with her money start a dairy farm since land in British East Africa circa 1913 is inexpensive.

Karen gets to Africa, and since the farm isn't near the coast, she has to take the train from Mombasa to Nairobi, where she'll meet up with Bror and then go on to the farm together after getting married. The train makes a whistle stop along the way, where a British big-game hunter, Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), deposits some ivory although he does not board the train. Denys knows about the way of life in Africa, and it's clear that Karen doesn't.

Eventually she reaches Nairobi and finds Bror. The two get married, only for him to reveal that he's decided they should grow coffee instead of dairy cattle. This even though it's questionable whether coffee will grow well in their part of Kenya -- it grows well in other parts, so why not here? This is only the first of several conflicts between Karen and Bror. Karen also has more concern for the local Kikuyu people than most Europeans do. Worst is that Bror must be sleeping with other women, because Karen is diagnosed with syphilis.

In the meantime, Karen likes to oversee all the land she owns and the nearby country. This leads her to another meeting with Denys when a lion approaches as Karen is standing under a tree. Now, if Karen just stands there, she should be OK, but she's scared and wants to run, and wants Denys to shoot the lion. But after the meeting, you know the two are going to fall in love, even though they'll never be able to have a real relationship. World War I and a bunch of other things intervene and, as we know, Karen eventually returns to Denmark since the movie opens with the much older Karen in Denmark.

I mentioned at the beginning that Out of Africa won Best Picture at the Oscars. I have to think it's because 1985 was a fairly weak year for films. Heck, Witness got a Best Picture nomination. I happen to like Witness, but it's most definitely not Best Picture material. Out of Africa is, of course, the sort of epic (161 minute) movie that Oscar loves, and the technical aspects of it are certainly quite worthy of all those nominations.

Streep and Brandauer also both give good performances, and were nominated. Robert Redford, on the other hand, sticks out like a sore thumb. Director Sydney Pollack wanted him on the grounds that there weren't any British actors with suitable charm and young enough to take on the role. (I don't think Hugh Grant or Colin Firth were well enough known yet.) In any case, Redford is all wrong for the part. There are also issues with the script, which moves at an absolutely glacial pace, accounting for that 161-minute running time. But the location cinematography is beautiful.

All in all, Out of Africa is a bit of a mixed bag, but one that ultimately has more pluses than minuses.

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