Based on Peter Viertel's novel Roman a Clef, WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART uses the making of a classic film, THE AFRICAN QUEEN, as the setting for an investigation into the creative process. It's also the story of one enigmatic film director as told by another. Star-director Clint Eastwood plays
a thinly disguised John Huston, here called John Wilson.
Set in 1951, the film begins as Wilson has summoned an old friend, writer Pete Verrill (Jeff Fahey), to his Irish estate to recruit him for his latest project--the title of which he never can remember--about a salty, hard-drinking boat captain and a prissy schoolmarm who take on the German navy in
Africa during WWII. All Wilson really cares about is that the film will give him a fast infusion of cash to put a dent in personal debts totalling a quarter of a million dollars. Even more important, it will provide him with an all-expenses-paid opportunity to fulfill his longtime dream of going
big-game hunting. Meetings with producer Paul Landers (George Dzundza, playing a role modeled on real-life producer Sam Spiegel) and potential backers put the production on track, and Wilson and Verrill begin work on the script. But a major dispute arises over the fate of the leading characters,
who, in Wilson's version, are killed, while Verrill insists they should live as the fair reward for their extraordinary heroism. Even after Wilson and Verrill's arrival in Africa, the film continues to take a back seat to the director's planned safari to kill an elephant.
WHITE HUNTER is an ambitious and intriguing project that never amounts to anything more than the sum of its parts--a trait shared by many of Eastwood's other major project as an independent filmmaker, BIRD. The personification of the post-Hemingway action hero, Eastwood looks and sounds
uncomfortable filling Huston's decidedly Hemingwayesque shoes. As the action shifts to Africa, he seems inordinately laid-back as his character's obsession grows. He can't quite get a hold on the first predominantly unsympathetic character he's played since TIGHTROPE. And as a director, Eastwood
has yet to pose much of a threat to Huston. WHITE HUNTER, like other Eastwood-directed films, lacks precisely the clear, lean narrative approach that characterizes Huston's best work (including THE AFRICAN QUEEN) or even that of Eastwood's mentor, director Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY, ESCAPE FROM
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