MISTER MOSES joins the ranks of a substantial number of well-publicized, generally good A-list movies released in 1965 that were either ignored by critics and/or under-performed at the registers. This one has all but disappeared. It made around $2,500,000, turned up on NBC’s Saturday Night At The Movies a few years later, then vanished down the rabbit hole for the last five decades. I saw it as a ten-year old on a double-bill with another notable ’65 casualty, Major Dundee, kept a pleasant memory of it, then finally saw it again the other night, streaming in segments via You Tube, on a laptop, hardly the best venue. I don’t recommend watching it that way, but if it ever gets decent video release, it makes for relaxing, enjoyable light-adventure, filmed on location in Kenya.
Robert Mitchum plays a traveling medicine-show con artist whose battered form floats into the bulrushes near a village about to be forcibly ejected from their land to make way for a dam. In a leisurely hybrid of Wild River, Blood Alley and —duh— the Moses story, con-man Bob is cajoled into leading the tribe to a new land, 300 miles distant. Fetching missionary’s daughter (always a handy situation) Carroll Baker strikes sparks with the elephant-riding savior.
According to ribald accounts in Baker’s memoir (“Baby Doll”) and the great Lee Server bio of Mitchum, (titled with situation-fitting irony “Baby, I Don’t Care”) there was heat sizzling on the shoot until Mitchum paramour Shirley MacLaine turned up, and gossip ink flew like tsetses. Whatever happened in the huts, the attractive co-stars mesh and have a nice chemistry here, with Baker dropping her sexpot look from magazines and The Carpetbaggers to show simple freshness, and Mitchum having fun talking like a hipster. He sounds more like Dean Martin than Dino himself, which really isn’t a stretch, as he was more of a wildass than the laid-back Martin, whose shtick was 90% put-on.
The locations are also handsome, as Africa-expected, under camera from Oswald Morris, with John Barry again providing music that reflects the vastness and mystery-majesty of the region. He’d already handled Zulu, with Born Free and Out Of Africa coming down the line.
Co-star Ian Bannen was having banner year on the continent’s stomping grounds what with The Hill and a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for The Flight Of The Phoenix. Those two dramas, superior to this simply fun outing, also fell curse to 1965’s peculiar audience-acceptance-clause, and the beautiful Baker struggled with bombing in Harlow and Sylvia as well (fed up with Hollywood and the press, she bagged it and moved to Italy for a second career). Mitchum took it in his indifferent stride, ‘a miss as good as a hit, hey, it’s cool, Jack’. He loved hanging out with the Masai and became an honorary member of the tribe—dancing, throwing spears, drinking cattle blood.
With Raymond St. Jacques (speaking of characters!), eating it up as hateful villain, Alexander Knox, Orlando Martins, and ‘Emily’, a lesbian elephant who refused to perform unless her girlfriend, ‘Susie’, was on set. All this was handled with professional aplomb by director Ronald Neame in 115 minutes.
Not an important movie by any definition, but a kick-back-the-rocker smiler (if it ever shows up again in decent prints!). The picturesque locales include Lake Naivasha and Amboseli National Park. These magnificent treasures are now besieged by merciless poaching and nonstop environmental degradation. I was lucky enough to visit a few years back. Go. See them. NOW. If you wait….well…