The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Adventure, Drama, Romance | 114 min | Released: 1952
Director: Henry King, Roy Ward Baker
Starring: Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Hildegard Knef, Leo G. Carroll, Torin Thatcher, Ava Norring
Our Rating: 7
The film begins with the opening words of Hemingway’s story: “Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai ‘Ngje Ngi,’ the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.”
The story centers on the memories of disillusioned writer Harry Street (Gregory Peck) who is on safari in Africa. He has a severely infected wound from a thorn prick, and lies outside his tent awaiting a slow death. The loss of mobility brings self-reflection. He remembers past years and how little he has accomplished in his writing. He realizes that although he has seen and experienced wonderful and astonishing things during his life, he had never made a record of the events. His status as a writer is undermined by his reluctance to actually write. He also quarrels with the woman with him, blaming her for his living decadently and forgetting his failure to write of what really matters to him: his experiences among poor and “interesting” people, rather than the smart Europeans with whom he has been lately.
He lives to see morning come. He watches vultures gather in a tree as he lies in the evening. He recapitulates his life and talks to his current girl-friend Helen (Susan Hayward). He tells her about his past experiences; then arguing, then coming to realization about his attitude, and finally reaching a sort of peace, even love, with her.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro is a 1952 American Technicolor film based on the short story of the same name by Ernest Hemingway.
The film version of the short story was directed by Henry King, written by Casey Robinson, and starred Gregory Peck as Harry, Susan Hayward as Helen, and Ava Gardner as Cynthia Green (a character invented for the film).
The film’s ending does not mirror the book’s ending.
Considered by Hemingway to be one of his finest stories, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was first published in Esquire magazine in 1936 and then republished in The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (1938).
The film was nominated for two Oscars at the 25th Academy Awards, for Best Cinematography, Color and Best Art Direction, Color (Lyle R. Wheeler, John DeCuir, Thomas Little, Paul S. Fox).
Twentieth Century-Fox bought the rights to the story in June 1948, paying $125,000.
The film was shot on location in Nairobi, Kenya, Cairo, Egypt, the French Riviera, and studio work was done at Stage 14 in 20th Century Fox Studios.
During production, on April 8, 1952, when Peck was carrying Gardner for a scene in the film, Peck wrenched his knee and production had to be postponed for 10 days while he recovered in his Pacific Palisades home.
Jazz musician Benny Carter performs early on in the film.
The bullfight sequences was archive footage, taken from Fox’s 1941 film Blood and Sand.
Helped by a star-studded cast, the film was one of the most successful films of the early 1950s and earned $12.5 million at the box office, very high for that period.
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards; for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction (Lyle R. Wheeler, John DeCuir, Thomas Little, Paul S. Fox).
The film was much acclaimed by critics, although some vary in their opinion of it, ranging from “simply plodding” to “much-maligned”.
The cinematography was highly acclaimed in particular, and even the sophisticated interiors were praised. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times described the cinematography as “magnificent and exciting” and said that the “overall production in wonderful color is full of brilliant detail and surprise and the mood of nostalgia and wistful sadness that is built up in the story has its spell.” He praised Peck’s character for his “burning temper and melancholy moods”, although he said that Ava Gardner was “pliant and impulsive” in a role “as soggy and ambiguous as any in the film”.
Ernest Hemingway disliked the film because he thought it cannibalized material from his other work to pad the story. He told friend Ava Gardner that the only things he liked about it were her and the hyena.
It has been reported, but not confirmed, that director Henry King mimicked the hyena on the soundtrack.
Although there was some impressive second unit work shot in Kenya, the principal actors shot their African scenes in Hollywood.
Gregory Peck resisted taking the role because an earlier Ernest Hemingway adaptation he had appeared in, The Macomber Affair (1947) had been a box-office flop.
Bowker’s Directory described it as having “plenty of action & romance” and stated that it was “the popular ‘celebrity film’ of its time”.
Hemingway, who disliked the typical Hollywood happy ending, accepted the money for the film, but he could not bring himself to view the film.
This film was the second ever to be broadcast on NBC-TV’s ground-breaking “Saturday Night at the Movies” series, September 30, 1961.
Cinematographer Joseph MacDonald filled in for a period when Leon Shamroy fell ill.
Roy Ward Baker directed the location footage, Henry Hathaway directed all the studio footage.
The second-unit scenes filmed in Africa were photographed by Charles G. Clarke.