This week’s mystery movie was the 1947 United Artists release of Benedict Bogeaus’ “The Macomber Affair,” with Gregory Peck, Joan Bennett, Robert Preston, Reginald Denny, Jean Gillie, Carl Harbord, Earl Smith, Frederic Worlock and Vernon Downing.
Screenplay by Casey Robinson and Seymour Bennett from an adaptation by Seymour Bennett and Frank Arnold. Adapted from “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” by Ernest Hemingway, a Cosmopolitan magazine story.
Production associate Arthur M. Landau, photography by Karl Struss, production manager Ken Walters, art direction by Erno Metzner, set decorations by Fred Widdowwson, edited by George Feld and Jack Wheeler, sound by William Lynch, women’s wardrobe by Greta, men’s wardrobe by Jerry Bos, makeup by Otis Malcolm, Miss Bennett’s hairdresser Meryl Reeves, assistant director Joseph Depew.
African photography by O.H. Borraldaile, John Wilcox and Fred Francis, through the courtesy of the Kenya Game Department.
Music by Miklos Rozsa.
Assistant to producer Carley Harriman. Produced by Benedict Bogeaus and Casey Robinson. Directed by Zoltan Korda.
“The Macomber Affair” has never been commercially released in the U.S. There is a Spanish version on a Region 2 DVD. It last aired on TCM in 2016, according to an online database, however, TV logs show that it also aired on TCM in 2017.
I picked “The Macomber Affair” based on the review in Motion Picture Daily (Jan. 28, 1947), which said:
With the names of Gregory Peck, Joan Bennett and Robert Preston nicely clustered for purposes of marquee and advertising copy, this production by Benedict Bogeaus and Casey Robinson, of a story by Ernest Hemingway which got a lot of reading and generated plenty of comment, comes to the market as an item easy to sell at box office profit. It is, additionally, an adult picture, both in subject matter and in the manner of its execution, which appears to suggest that the film, like the story, will be talked about extensively enough to leave no doubt about its commercial career.
The subject matter, conveyed in a well-wrought script by co-producer Robinson and Seymour Bennett, differs in essence from most material utilized for pictures….
Unique in many respects, the film deals conversationally at length with the relationship between the elation accruing from the slaughter of animals and the emotions which, to quote the dialogue, “make a man a man and a woman a woman.” This type of thing is not commonly dealt with for the very young and probably will com as news to a majority of grownups who see the film. Direction by Zoltan Korda is steadily effective.
My main surprise with the film was Robert Preston, who turns in a marvelous performance here as a cowardly hunter trying to prove that he’s a man – at least if killing large animals makes one “a man.” Joan Bennett is unpleasant with her husband (Preston) and openly flirtatious with their hunting guide (Peck) and it’s hard to see what either of them might see in her. As the big game guide escorting the cowardly hunter and his bitchy/promiscuous wife, Gregory Peck tries to be hard-boiled but is only a one-minute egg, alas. He’s just too noble (think Frank Savage in “Twelve O’Clock High” and Atticus Finch “To Kill a Mockingbird.”)
I’m surprised the film hasn’t been commercially released. According to the Moviecollector’s database of films on TCM, “The Macomber Affair” has only aired five times, the last being in 2015. Peck is a bit miscast, but Preston’s excellent turn as the cowardly hunter is light-years from his more familiar roles in “The Music Man,” “This Gun for Hire” and “Victor/Victoria” and well worth seeing for that.
Bosley Crowther, writing in the New York Times (April 21, 1947) said:
If you will kindly overlook the beginning and the end of “The Macomber Affair,” which Benedict Bogeaus and Casey Robinson delivered to the Globe on Saturday, you will find a quite credible screen telling of a short story by Ernest Hemingway, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” once termed by Mr. Hemingway as one of his best. It is not a romantic story, as readers already know, and the producers have not improved it by trying to make it so. But, without their beginning and ending, which are easy to detect and detach, it makes for a tight and absorbing study of character on the screen….
Obviously, there was no question in Mr. Hemingway’s mind of the lady’s deliberate intentions. And there is no question in the film, from the way the shooting scene is enacted and with all that goes before. For Mr. Robinson and Seymour Bennett have followed, in the main part of the script, precisely the details and psychology of Mr. Hemingway’s yarn….
Joan Bennett is completely hydrochloric as the peevish, deceitful dame, showing in every glance and gesture her corrosive concern for herself. And Robert Preston is patently the victim of her perpetually acid abuse — a piteously chicken-hearted blow-hard, until he wins his brief, triumphant release.
Likewise, the measured performance of Gregory Peck as the hard-bitten guide implies the distrust and cynicism of the latter toward the unsporting dame. In the tick-tock tempo of the action and in the whole hot and dusty atmosphere (which is handsomely described in outdoor scenery), the notion of malevolence is captured too.
Thus the currently contrived conclusion that the guide has fallen in love with the dame and that possibly the shooting was accidental is completely stupid and false. It is plainly a sentimental fixture which has no place in the film and which detracts from an otherwise commendable hate-and-jealousy yarn. If the footage devoted to this tag-end had been used to emphasize the irony of the story — of humans, so-called, slaughtering splendid beasts (and the hunting scenes, incidentally, are visual knockouts) the boys would have had quite a film.
For Monday, we have a mystery gent.
Update: This is Vernon Downing.
For Tuesday, we have a mystery gent. He is puzzled by such goings-on.
Update: This is Carl Harbord.
Brain Trust roll call: Starlight Studio (Monday’s mystery photographer).
Note to Sylvia E. Yes. It’s an airport.
For “Hm Wednesday,” we have a mystery woman. She is extremely curious about such goings-on.
Update: This is Jean Gillie.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and both mystery guests).
For “Aha Thursday” we have a mystery gentleman with a fair amount of “Aha.”
Update: This is Robert Preston.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s mystery bartender) and Sheila (Wednesday’s mystery bartender).
For Friday, we have this mystery gent and Back of the Head Guy.
Update: This is Reginald Denny with Gregory Peck as Back of the Head Guy.
In this era, the well-bred woman wore gloves, even when testing a rifle while on safari. Our leading man may be concerned about her lack of trigger discipline, which will be important later.
Update: This is Gregory Peck and Joan Bennett.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Sylvia E. (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s unhappy husband), Floyd Thursby (mystery movie and Thursday’s unhappy husband), Mike Hawks (mystery movie, mystery photographer, mystery bartender and mysterious unhappy husband), L.C. (mystery movie and mystery cast), Benito (mystery movie and Thursday’s unhappy husband), Diane Ely (Thursday’s unhappy husband), Blackwing Jenny (mystery movie and Thursday’s unhappy husband), Sheila (mystery movie and Thursday’s unhappy husband) and Anne Papineau (Thursday’s unhappy husband).