In the Belgian Congo of 1907, Hayward is a missionary nurse who sets out to minister to the feared Bakuba tribe. She hires guides Slezak and Mitchum to take her into the interior, but their motives are somewhat less altruistic than hers. They have heard stories of gold in Bakuba territory
and plan to use Hayward's mission to learn of its whereabouts. As they travel through the jungle, Hayward stops to cure the wife of a native chief. This infuriates the local witch doctor, and he puts a tarantula in Hayward's bed in vengeance, but she manages to escape its venom. Traveling on,
Mitchum saves a boy from a lion, and the child turns out to be the son of the Bakuba chief. Mitchum and Slezak are also interested in the necklace of gold nuggets the boy wears around his neck. As the boy recovers under Hayward's care, the two men plan to use him to get the gold, but their scheme
falls apart when six warriors from the tribe come and carry the boy off. The boy does not recover, though, and the chief sends for Hayward. Mitchum, who by now has fallen in love with Hayward, goes along, while Slezak gathers some armed men to take the gold by force. Bakuba pickets discover the
preparations, and Mitchum is accused of leading the gold seekers to the village. He offers to go and tell Slezak there is no gold, while Hayward stays behind as a hostage. Slezak refuses to believe Mitchum and pulls a gun on him. There is a struggle. The gun goes off, and Slezak falls down dead.
Mitchum quickly puts Slezak's cohorts to rout and returns to the village, where he and Hayward decide to remain to care for the tribesmen.
Basically a routine jungle melodrama with big stars, WHITE WITCH DOCTOR did little for the careers of any of the principals. Hayward certainly did not enjoy working on the picture, as she disliked director Hathaway from their previous effort together, RAWHIDE (1951), and on the set even refused to
have anything to do with anyone who was a friend of the director. Nor did she especially like Mitchum, with whom she had previously worked in THE LUSTY MEN (1952). The film had a troubled production history, starting when Hayward learned that Mitchum disliked the script as much as she did. She
approached Darryl F. Zanuck and stated that unless the script was rewritten, she and Mitchum would refuse to star in the film. Zanuck told her the studio couldn't afford a rewrite but she stood firm. Zanuck told Hathaway about the trouble with the stars, and Hathaway answered "I don't blame them.
It's a lousy script." Hathaway then offered to do a rewrite himself in a couple of weeks and after some consideration of the money already invested in sets and the like--including $600,000 spent to send a second-unit crew to Africa for background shots and to pick up some genuine native artifacts
for the picture--Zanuck agreed. During the shooting, Mitchum had a little fun at Hathaway's expense. He walked onto the set for one of the final days of shooting claiming not to know his lines (actually he had studied them thoroughly). While Hathaway raged at him for being unprepared, Mitchum
calmly asked for a script, glanced over the six pages to be shot, then spoke his lines perfectly. Amazed, Hathaway later told Zanuck: "This S.O.B. is the most phenomenal actor I've ever seen. He glanced through the script and did six pages of dialog--four in solid African dialect--letter perfect,
with every nuance."
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- Rating: NR
- Review: In the Belgian Congo of 1907, Hayward is a missionary nurse who sets out to minister to the feared Bakuba tribe. She hires guides Slezak and Mitchum to take her into the interior, but their motives are somewhat less altruistic than hers. They have heard st… (more)