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Mogambo is a 1953 American Technicolor adventure/romantic drama film directed by John Ford and starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly, and featuring Donald Sinden. Shot on location in Equatorial Africa, with a musical soundtrack entirely of actual African tribal music recorded in the Congo, the film was adapted by John Lee Mahin from the play Red Dust by Wilson Collison. The picture is a remake of Red Dust (1932), which also stars Gable in the same role.

Original movie poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Produced bySam Zimbalist
Screenplay byJohn Lee Mahin
Based onRed Dust
1928 play
by Wilson Collison
StarringClark Gable
Ava Gardner
Grace Kelly
Music byRobert Burns
CinematographyRobert Surtees
Freddie Young
Edited byFrank Clarke
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • October 9, 1953 (1953-10-09)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.1 million[1]
Box office$8.3 million[1]


Ava Gardner in Mogambo

Eloise "Honey Bear" Kelly (Ava Gardner) arrives at a remote African outpost, looking for a rich maharajah acquaintance, only to find he has cancelled his trip owing to unrest in his realm. While waiting for the next river boat out, she spars with hardworking big game hunter Victor Marswell (Clark Gable), who (initially) pegs her as a certain disreputable type. When the river boat returns, it brings Donald Nordley (Donald Sinden) and his wife Linda (Grace Kelly). The Nordleys wish to go on safari to film gorillas. Marswell declines to guide them. Honey Bear rejoins the group after the steamer runs aground. Tensions run high between the two women when Linda is also attracted to Marswell.

Marswell agrees to take the Nordleys into gorilla country, taking Honey Bear halfway to join the District Commissioner, who can then escort her back to civilization. However, they find the commissioner badly wounded by recently belligerent natives. With reinforcements days away, the small party narrowly escapes, taking the mortally wounded commissioner with them. Meanwhile, a serious romance is developing between Marswell and Linda. Only Donald is blind to the situation. Marswell plans to warn the husband, but then has second thoughts after realizing how much Donald loves her and perhaps how she would be better off remaining with Donald. The situation is aggravated when Marswell reluctantly shoots a gorilla to save Donald, blowing a chance to capture a baby gorilla. Marswell becomes depressed and begins drinking heavily in his tent. Honey Bear joins him, and one thing leads to another.

When Linda appears, she finds them cuddling. Marswell decides he can fix everything by making Linda hate him and makes a show of this cuddling followed by dismissive remarks about Linda's infatuation with "the White Hunter" to enrage her. Unfortunately his ploy works too well when Linda shoots him with his own pistol, wounding him in the arm. Honey Bear lies to the others, telling them that Marswell had been making advances to Linda for some time, finally forcing her to shoot him in his drunken state. The next day, the party breaks camp, leaving Marswell behind to try to capture young gorillas to pay for the safari. Marswell, acknowledging to himself his feelings for Honey Bear, proposes to her, but she rebuffs him. As a canoe takes her downriver, however, she suddenly jumps into the water and makes her way back to him. The two embrace.


Clark Gable and Grace Kelly in Mogambo

Production notesEdit

Ava Gardner in Mogambo


In 1946 the Los Angeles Times reported that MGM were considering remaking Red Dust with Marilyn Maxwell as a possible star.[2] In March 1948 Marie McDonald reportedly screen tested for the Jean Harlow part.[3] In May 1949 Maxwell and Gene Kelly were being considered for lead roles.[4]

The studio went on to have a great deal of success with color remakes of old films shot on location overseas, including Quo Vadis, filmed in Europe, and King Solomon's Mines, shot in Africa. In August 1951 MGM announced they would make Mogambo, which would be a remake shot on location in Africa. The producer would be Sam Zimbalist who had made King Solomon's Mines and the star would be Clark Gable.[5]

In February 1952 Zimbalist scouted for locations in Africa for six weeks. In June John Ford agreed to direct.[6]


Shelley Winters was mentioned as a possible co star for Gable.[7] Patricia Neal was also discussed.[8] In June 1952 Ava Gardner signed.

Grace Kelly was not the first choice for the role of Linda Nordley. Gene Tierney dropped out due to not wanting to leave Aly Khan in Paris. [9]


Gable arrived in Kenya on 1 November 1952 and was given an armed guard due to the Mau Mau Uprising.[10]

Filming started 17 November. It was done on location in Okalataka, French Congo; Mount Kenya, Thika, Kenya — Mt Longonot, and Lake Naivasha, both in the Kenyan Rift Valley and Fourteen Falls near Thika are seen as backdrops — Kagera River, Tanganyika; Isoila, Uganda, and interiors were shot at the MGM-British Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England. [11]

Frank Allen and his wife were guides during the six week safari that constituted location filming.[12]

The shoot was difficult. Gardner fell ill with dysentery during the shoot, requiring her to be flown to England during the shoot (she recovered and flew back). There was a rumor Clark Gable was going to be assassinated by the Mau Mau so John Ford moved a location. Two of the crew were revealed to be Mau Mau.[13] The unit was plagued by rain and poor quality of the roads - three of the crew were killed in road accidents including assistant director John Hancock.[14][15]

Donald Sinden, then a contract star for the Rank Organisation at Pinewood Studios, recalled:

"Ten White Hunters were seconded to our unit for our protection and to provide fresh meat. Among them were Viscount Mandeville and Marcus, Lord Wallscourt, a delightful man whom Ford treated abysmally - sometimes very sadistically. In Ford's eyes the poor man could do nothing right and was continually being bawled out in front of the entire unit (in some ways he occasionally took the heat off me). None of us could understand the reason for this appalling treatment, which the dear kind man in no way deserved. He himself was quite at a loss. Several weeks later we discovered the cause from Ford's brother-in-law: before emigrating to America, Ford's grandfather had been a labourer on the estate in Ireland of the then Lord Wallscourt: Ford was now getting his own back at his descendant. Not a charming sight.[16] Before leaving camp on the first morning [of shooting] I had been told to report to the hair-dressing departments tent, where I found the make-up men armed with electric clippers: 'I have to remove the hair from your chest.' 'Whatever for?' I asked, 'Orders.' It transpired that Clark [Gable], whose chest was completely devoid of hair, had always insisted that no other actor should appear on film exposing a hirsute breast. This included any member of the crew not wearing a shirt as well. He considered it a slight on his masculinity.[16] We now had to return to the MGM Studios in London to shoot all the interior scenes. Someone must have pointed out to Ford that he had been thoroughly foul to me during the entire location shoot and when I arrived for my first day's work I found that he had caused a large notice to be painted at the entrance to our sound stage in capital letters reading "BE KIND TO DONALD WEEK". He was as good as his word - for precisely seven days. On the eighth day he ripped the sign down and returned to his normal bullying behaviour."[16]

Post ProductionEdit

The music featured in the film was performed by local native tribes (except for Gardner accompanied by player piano), unusual for Hollywood and the film records a traditional Africa and safari style.

Francoist Spanish censors would not allow adultery to be shown onscreen. For that reason, they changed the relationship of the characters of Linda Nordley (Kelly) and Donald Nordley (Sinden) from wife and husband to sister and brother in the dubbed version released in Spain, thus necessitating the removal of a bedroom scene in which only one bed is present.


The film was a massive hit — according to MGM records it made $4,576,000 in the US and Canada and $3,692,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $2,026,000.[1] It currently has an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 12 reviews.[17]

Awards and honorsEdit

Grace Kelly won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress while the film was nominated for two Oscars: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Gardner) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Kelly). The film was also nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Film.[18]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles, CA: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ 'Red Dust' Repeat May Star Marilyn Maxwell Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 4 Nov 1946: A2.
  3. ^ Hedda Hopper--LOOKING AT HOLLYWOOD Los Angeles Times 30 Mar 1948: 17.
  4. ^ Bickford Named Costar With 20th Luminaries; Maxwell Deal Hinted Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 27 May 1949: 19.
  5. ^ MGM SCHEDULES 40 PICTURES FOR YEAR Los Angeles Times 16 Aug 1951: 29.
  6. ^ FORD WILL DIRECT GABLE IN 'MOGAMBO': Metro's Romantic Adventure to Be Filmed in Africa --Zimbalist Is Producer By THOMAS M. PRYORS New York Times ]12 June 1952: 40.
  7. ^ Looking at Hollywood: Comedy Role Lures Mitchum from Vacation Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 1 May 1952: b2.
  8. ^ Albert Lewin to Film 'Saadia' in Morocco Los Angeles Times 10 May 1952: 10.
  9. ^ Drama: Cary Grant Will Do Next Film in France Los Angeles Times 25 Sep 1953: B6.
  10. ^ Clark Gable Given Guard in Africa Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]02 Nov 1952: A6
  12. ^ 'Safari' Makes Trek To Franklin Park Zoo: Off the Beaten Path By Don Messenger The Christian Science Monitor 21 Sep 1953: 6.
  13. ^ Ava Gardner III With Dysentery New York Times 25 Nov 1952: 35.
  14. ^ Actors Find Roads Chief Peril in Africa By Bob Thomas. The Washington Post 3 Apr 1953: 44.
  15. ^ Clark Gable's Film Aide Dies in Africa Crash Los Angeles Times 19 Jan 1953: 6.
  16. ^ a b c Sinden, Donald. A Touch Of The Memoirs, Hodder & Stoughton 1982; ISBN 0340262354/ISBN 9780340262351; pp. 174-75, 185
  17. ^ "Mogambo". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  18. ^ Mogambo at the Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  19. ^ "AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.

External linksEdit