Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel


Directed by Henry King. Written by Philip Dunne, Julien Josephson. Photography, George Barnes, Otto Brower. Editing, Barbara McLean. Music, Russell Bennett, David Buttolph, Cyril Mockridge, et al. Art direction, William Darling, George Dudley. Sets, Thomas Little. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Cedric Hardwicke, Nancy Kelly, Richard Greene, Walter Brennan, Charles Coburn, Henry Hull, Henry Travers, Miles Mander, Holmes Herbert et al. A 20th Century Fox film. 101 minutes
In 1870, Henry Morton Stanley (Spencer Tracy), English-born star reporter of the New York Herald, is sent by editor James Gordon Bennett to Africa to search for "lost" Scottish missionary-explorer-humanitarian David Livingstone (Cedric Hardwicke).At the end of the 1870-71 expedition, Stanley locates him. It turns out that Livingstone was not lost at all. The rapport between the two men is beautifully established, well beyond the famous "Dr. Livingston, I presume?" -- perhaps the best known salutation in the English language.

Many memorable (and exotic) scenes. Among them: Stanley showing his admiration for Livingstone through wonderful, silent reaction shots (a Tracy specialty excellently exploited throughout the movie); Livingstone removing a spine from a gutsy child; Livingstone conducting a local chorus in a vigorous, fast-tempo singing of "Onward Christian Soldiers" -- for me a lovely, colorful equivalent of a recording by the Soviet Army Chorus in which they engage into the most spirited rendition imaginable of "It's a Long Way to Tipperary."

Back in London, the Geographic Society calls Stanley a fraud, in what comes through partly as British-American rivalry and partly as suspiciousness of the former colonists. But the august Society members have to eat their words. After some skilfully handled suspense, Stanley's reputation is saved in extremis by news of Livingstone's death.

Effective as drama, the film has also the virtue of being reasonably accurate with facts -- more so that the great majority of 1930s biopics and "historical" movies. It has good production values. The fine photography blends studio sets, location footage and back projection. As usual with this kind of movie, you can amuse yourself by studying how the principals are placed within an exotic environment.

Tracy, in the African landscape, is either shown in long shot or from the back -- because a stand-in has taken his place. Or else in close-ups with detectable yet forgivable back projection.

"S & L" received no Oscar nominations. Most likely, it would have in a year less competitive than the legendary Hollywood vintage of 1939. Tracy's excellent, patented sober performance is certainly of prize-winning caliber.

George Barnes, the cinematographer, was one of Hollywood's best. He started in silent pictures, including two Valentino classics, THE EAGLE and THE SON OF THE SHEIK, the picture that made a star of Joan Crawford, OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS and, curiously, the much-remade SADIE THOMPSON,the last major picture of Gloria Swanson before she resurfaced, decades later, in SUNSET BOULEVARD.

His subsequent track record was also remarkable, with, among others, FOOTLIGHT PARADE, MEET JOHN DOE, JANE EYRE, SPELLBOUND. His only Oscar was for REBECCA, the year after STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE. Yet he was nominated seven other times, a figure that corresponds to Barnes's number of marriages. (Edwin Jahiel)

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel