Saturday, January 15, 2011

"White Hunter, Black Heart": We like it better when Clint pulls the trigger

Title: White Hunter, Black Heart
Released: 1990
Genre: Hollywood bio-fiction
Notable for: Clint talks funny
Coolest thing Clint does: Verbally demolishes a smug, Nazi sympathizing Englishwoman over champagne

By this stage of Clint's film output, he obviously itched to try different things. We don't know why he chose "White Hunter, Black Heart" to be one of those things, but it is different.

For starters, Clint must talk more in this movie than in all his westerns combined. And he talks funny.

He plays an egotistical movie director in a transparently veiled story of John Huston making the 1951 film "The African Queen" in the Congo. Other actors play imitations of Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, and Clint joins in by imitating Huston's speaking style. He doesn't do a bad job, but it is impossible to stop noticing the dude talks funny.

Studio publicity for "White Hunter, Black Heart" called the movie an "adventure in obsession." It's the sort of script that probably sounded interesting to Hollywood insiders in the same way playing record albums backward fascinates Beatlemaniacs.

The film rises and falls on Clint's portrayal of the flamboyant movie director. His character is selfish, hard-drinking, a womanizer and a lover of manly adventure in the mold of Ernest Hemingway.

"There's nothing tougher than remembering why you chased a dame after you've had her," Clint says at one point. After he is pummeled in a fistfight, he says, "You've got to fight when you think it's right, even if you get the hell beat out of you."

Clint's character annoys everyone, but he has an endearing way of sticking up for little guys.

When a white hotel manager knocks down a black African employee for a minor mistake, Clint calls the white guy a yellow bastard and fights him.

Our vote for the best scene in the movie comes when Clint's dinner companion, a lady he hopes to lay, reveals she hates Jews. He verbally rips her to shreds. Click here to see it.

Elephant-hunting is a central theme because Clint is obsessed with shooting a "big tusker" while in Africa. Much symbolism probably exists here, but we are too dumb to explain it.

"It's not a crime to kill an elephant," Clint explains. "It's a sin. It's the only sin you can buy a license to go out and commit."

Killing an elephant sounds adventurous but it is a poor foundation for a plot. The story never builds to any climax except the less-than-riveting uncertainty of whether Clint will bag his big tusker.

When the moment of truth arrives, Clint -- unbelievably -- wimps out. He cannot pull the trigger and a charging elephant kills his beloved hunting guide. A shaken Clint goes back to his movie set and commences filming "The African Queen."

The elephant-sparing ending must either reveal Clint's manly macho was a fraud or it involves some inner awakening. We did not care enough to ponder.

Lifelong Clint fans are unlikely to place "White Hunter, Black Heart" high on their list of favorites. Among other weaknesses, nothing explodes and Clint's character is not heroic. But critics loved it.

"This material marks a gutsy, fascinating departure for Mr. Eastwood, and makes it clear that his directorial ambitions have by now outstripped his goals as an actor," wrote the New York Times reviewer.

Different must be good for its own sake in Clint's line of work. Oscars were just two years away for the old grunter.

Next up: "The Rookie."

1 comment:

  1. "Lifelong Clint fans are unlikely to place "White Hunter, Black Heart" high on their list of favorites."

    Lifelong Clint fans - for which read 'Eastwood fans who can't accept their hero doing anything unless it involves shooting people & who think Eastwood stopped making great films after Unforgiven' - those clowns might be unlikely to place WH,BH high on their list of favourites, I grant you that, but I doubt anyone else will.

    Boy, it's gonna be a laugh riot when you two reach Clint's post-2000 output!