Showboat 1951 Based on the novel by Edna Ferber, the 1927 Broadway production and earlier film versions. Music and Lyrics by Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by George Sidney. The company of an entertainment riverboat fall in and out of love coping with social judgment and tradition. Leading actors Julie La Verne (Ava Gardner) and Steve Baker (Robert Sterling) are married. When she rejects advances made by the boat’s engineer, he vengefully reveals to a local sheriff that Julie is part negro. Interracial marriage is against the law. The couple are forced to leave the secure and familial job.
Gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel) is smitten with Captain Andy’s (Joe. E. Brown) young daughter Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson). Stepping into Julie and Steve’s musical roles, the couple are popular, cement their relationship, and against parental wishes, marry. After a time, they too leave, wanting to make a life on land. Both marriages are torn apart. Melodrama, personal sacrifice. Lush music. Characters are younger in the film than the show, what was felt were irrelevant comedy scenes were cut, interracial scenes sanitized.
The story was first filmed in 1929 as a partial talkie, then reshot in 1936. Directed by James Whale with Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Charles Winninger, Paul Robeson, Helen Morgan. Available to purchase, not to stream. In this version, Annette Warren dubbed Ava Gardner’s singing voice but Gardner herself sang her two songs on the MGM soundtrack album. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro 1952 Based on the Ernest Hemingway story. Directed by Henry King. “Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai ‘Ngje Ngi,’ the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.” As writer Harry Street (Gregory Peck) dies from infection on a safari in Africa, he flashes back to what lead him there.
Gardner’s character, Cynthia Green, the hero’s great love and a member of Paris’ “Lost Generation,” makes no appearance in the economical book. Here she constitutes the axis of his past which later includes almost marrying a countess (Hildegarde Knef) and enlisting in The Spanish Civil War. He’s traveled with Helen (Susan Hayward) because she reminds him of Cynthia. A Hollywood production, the film’s ending doesn’t mirror that of the book. Peck and Africa are marvelous, Gardner something of a caricature. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Mogambo 1953 Directed by John Ford. The film was adapted from the play Red Dust by Wilson Collison and is a remake of the 1932 version in which Gable played the same role. Ah, Hollywood! Two formidable, polar opposite (evil & good?) women vie for big game hunter Victor Marswell (Clark Gable) at a remote African outpost.
Eloise “Honey Bear” Kelly (Ava Gardner) has arrived at the invitation of a maharaja she met under more civilized circumstances. He stands her up. While waiting for the next river boat out, she and Victor go to bed. When the boat returns, it brings Donald Nordley (Donald Sinden) and his wife Linda (Grace Kelly) who have booked a safari to study gorillas. In contrast to bawdy, been-around-the-block Honey Bear, Linda is delicate and refined. Victor is drawn to her, she to him.
Honey bear leaves, but her boat goes aground and she returns. Victor agrees to taking her part of the way on the Nordley’s trip to to connect her with someone who can then take her back to civilization. Attraction battles morality, the women fight for Victor, the jungle is not peaceful.
Mogambo was shot on location in Equatorial Africa during tribal rebellion. Gardner fell ill with dysentery requiring her to be flown to England (she recovered and flew back). There was a rumor Clark Gable was going to be assassinated by the Mau Mau, so armed guards were present. The unit was plagued by rain and the poor quality of the roads – three of the crew were killed in road accidents. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Barefoot Contessa 1954 Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Glamorous and earthy. Gardner is gorgeous and credible – a good part of her character’s attitude towards both the movie industry and her beauty paralleling the actress’s own. Bogart is low key appealing.
Looking for a stunning leading lady for his first film as producer, abusive, egotistical business tycoon Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens) and his lackeys go to a Madrid nightclub to see dancer Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner). Among the entourage are oily publicist Oscar Muldoon (Edmund O’Brian – Best Supporting Actor Academy Award) and down on his luck writer Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart), an under-duress participant and this film’s intermittent narrator.
Vargas is poor, wild, and proud. She’s disgusted by Kirk but trusts Harry so accompanies the group to Hollywood. Her films are a sensation, resurrect Harry’s career, and cement her friendship with him. Maria is drooled over and sought after, but finds the life as empty as she intuited. She quietly rebels until meeting Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rosano Brazzi) with whom she plans to give up acting for a quiet, secure married life and children. Things are not as they seem, however, and tragedy ensues.
According to TCM, Mankiewicz based the film’s central character of Maria Vargas on American movie star and dancer Rita Hayworth who had been married to Prince Aly Kahn. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Sun Also Rises 1957 An adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel. Directed by Henry King. What many call the author’s most important book is here a mismanaged curiosity despite the excellent cast. A glimpse of post WW I’s “Lost Generation” of expatriate writers, those rich and drifting, and hangers on, the plot revolves around journalist Jake Barnes (Tyrone Power) and his self-imposed, arm’s length relationship with beautiful Lady Brett Ashley (Ava Gardner) made tragic because of a wound that has left him impotent.
In love since she acted as his nurse during the war, the couple take very different paths ostensibly provoked by inability (Jake’s unwillingness) to be together. Jake has plunged into work, while Lady Brett becomes a sexually promiscuous, itinerant partier. When the hero makes his annual visit to Spain for fishing and bullfights, this year with friend/photographer Bill Gorton (Eddie Albert), he’s surprised by the presence of Lady Brett. With her is cuckolded, mostly drunk fiancé Mike Campbell (Errol Flynn), and besotted writer Robert Cohn (Mel Ferrer) with whom she had the briefest fling and who has now become a stalker. Added to Lady Brett’s acquisitions is 19 year-old bullfighter Romero (Robert Evans).
Consequences are many and often violent. Hemingway wrote, “I saw as much of Darryl Zanuck’s splashy Cook’s tour of Europe’s lost generation bistros, bullfights, and more bistros… It’s pretty disappointing and that’s being gracious.”
Due to the author’s insistence on casting Ava Gardner, the production was forced to reschedule having to substitute most shooting from Spain to Mexico. Bullfighting and Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls are actual footage. The later infamous producer Robert Evans, a suit salesman conscripted by Daryl Zanuck, was cast as young bullfighter Romero against the wishes of Hemingway, Power and Gardner. Dialogue never goes deep. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Night of the Iguana 1964 Based on the Tennessee Williams play. Directed by John Huston. Secretly disgraced Episcopal priest Reverend Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) has managed to wangle a job as guide for a bottom-of-the-barrel Texas company touring Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. His current group, comprised of Baptist school teachers, includes brittle, prudish leader Miss Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall) and her Lolita-like niece Charlotte Goodall (Sue Lyon, who played Lolita in the Kubrick film).
Charlotte spends the trip trying to seduce Shannon, eventually putting him in a sufficiently compromising position to evoke retribution from Miss Fellowes. To keep her from telephoning the company, Shannon engineers a vehicle break down near Hotel Costa Verde owned by sexual libertine Maxine Faulk (Ava Gardner), the widow of an old friend. The only other guests are flat broke spinster painter Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr) and her elderly poet grandfather (Cyril Delevanti). Shannon wrestles with weakness/temptation and…
On set drama due in part to the presence of Elizabeth Taylor was followed closely by the media. Allan Sherman wrote a parody song to the tune of “Streets of Laredo” with lyrics that included, “They were down there to film The Night of the Iguana / With a star-studded cast and a technical crew. / They did things at night midst the flora and fauna / That no self-respecting iguana would do.” Rent on Amazon Prime.