Clint Eastwood followed the artistic success of one of his highest high points as a director, 1988’s BIRD, not with a bang, but with a whisper. (Although if you’ve actually seen this movie, both ‘bang’ and ‘whisper’ sort of aptly cover it.)
WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART is maybe the most under-heralded Clint Eastwood directorial effort. WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART is to Clint what QUICK CHANGE is to Bill Murray or what Tunnel Of Love is to Bruce Springsteen . You’ve been dealing with me for a while now so you probably get the references.
This is a fictional biopic in mini- of the great director John Huston, and how he — allegedly, according to the account of writer Peter Viertel — lost it for a minute there during the making of THE AFRICAN QUEEN, that well-remembered classic movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. The Huston character, played here by Clint and renamed “John Wilson,” becomes obsessed with hunting elephants during the making of the movie in Africa, and nearly derails the project (and loses his own life) as a result of his obsession.
WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART has striking photography (a hallmark of a Malpaso picture, the honors done here by BIRD‘s Jack Green), wonderful locations, and even a rampaging elephant, but it is most memorable of all for Clint’s portrayal of the Ahab-esque main character. John Huston had a very distinctive voice and Clint pretty much nails it. I mean, everything about the performance is convincing and vivid, but who knew before now that Clint could do impressions? It’s a kick.
I started out by naming this film as a high point for this durable screen icon’s directing career, but really, it’s just as much a high point for him as an actor. Seriously, if you’re one of those people who ever doubted Clint’s acting ability, and you thought all he’s about is squinting and growling and glowering, your opinion don’t mean beans until you’ve seen this movie.
WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART is playing in 35mm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center today.
— JON ABRAMS (@JONNYABOMB).
WHITE HUNTER, BLACK T-SHIRT
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