STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE (1939)
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)