Original movie poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Screenplay byJohn Lee Mahin
Based onRed Dust
by Wilson Collison
Produced bySam Zimbalist
StarringClark Gable
Ava Gardner
Grace Kelly
CinematographyRobert Surtees
Freddie Young
Edited byFrank Clarke
Music byRobert Burns
Distributed byLoew's, Inc.
Release date
  • October 9, 1953 (1953-10-09)
Running time
115 minutes
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$3.1 million[1]
Box office$8.3 million[1]

Mogambo is a 1953 Technicolor adventure/romantic drama film directed by John Ford and starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly, and featuring Donald Sinden. Shot on location in Equatorial Africa, with a musical soundtrack consisting entirely of actual African tribal music recorded in the Congo, the film was adapted by John Lee Mahin from the play Red Dust by Wilson Collison. The picture is a remake of Red Dust (1932), which was set in Vietnam and also starred Gable in the same role.

Although the original trailer for the film explains that "Mogambo" means "the Greatest," in fact, the word "Mogambo" has no meaning at all. Producer Sam Zimbalist came up with the title by altering the name of the Mocambo, a famous Hollywood nightclub.


Ava Gardner in Mogambo

New York socialite Eloise "Honey Bear" Kelly arrives at a remote African outpost, looking for a rich maharajah acquaintance, only to find he has cancelled his trip owing to unrest in his realm.[2] While waiting for the next river boat out, she spars with hardworking big game hunter and wild animal catcher Victor Marswell from the United States, who initially views her as disreputable. Marswell's business partner is plucky Englishman and big game hunter John Brown-Pryce, known as "Brownie." "Brownie" is sympathetic to Kelly, and believes that her "scars aren't visible, but they're there." Marswell also has a semi-hostile relationship with his employee, the gruff Russian Leon Boltchak. Kelly and Marswell later develop a mutual attraction and make love. Then the river boat brings London couple Donald Nordley and his wife Linda. Honey Bear takes the steamer out with the British skipper at Marswell's urging, although she would prefer to stay with Marswell and he expresses some regret at their parting. The Nordleys wish to go on safari to record the cries of gorillas. Marswell declines to guide them there due to the difficulties involved and insists that they be guided on the agreed route by his assistant, despite the Nordleys' protests. Honey Bear rejoins the group after the steamer suffers engine failure and subsequently runs aground.

Clark Gable and Grace Kelly in Mogambo

Marswell rescues Linda from a panther, and Honey Bear sees that they are attracted to one another. After Marswell talks to Linda privately, he agrees to take the Nordleys into gorilla country, while also taking Honey Bear part of the way to join the district commissioner, who can then take her back to civilization. However, they find the commissioner mortally wounded by recently belligerent Samburu tribesmen. With reinforcements days away, the small party narrowly escapes, taking the commissioner with them. Meanwhile, a serious romance is developing between Marswell and Linda. Only Donald is blind to the situation. Marswell plans to tell him about how he and Linda feel, but has second thoughts after realizing how much Donald loves his wife and perhaps how she would be better off remaining with him. The situation is aggravated when Marswell reluctantly shoots a gorilla to save Donald, blowing a chance to capture a baby gorilla. Marswell goes back to camp, depressed, and begins drinking heavily in his tent. Honey Bear joins him.

When Linda appears, she finds them cuddling. Marswell decides he can fix everything by making Linda hate him and makes a show of this cuddling followed by dismissive remarks about Linda's infatuation with "the White Hunter" to enrage her. Unfortunately, his ploy works too well when Linda shoots him with his own pistol, wounding him in the arm. Honey Bear lies to the others, telling them that Marswell had been making advances to Linda for some time, finally forcing Linda to shoot him in his drunken state. The next day, the party breaks camp to head back, leaving Marswell behind to try to capture young gorillas to pay for the safari. Marswell, acknowledging to himself his feelings for Honey Bear, asks her to stay and then proposes to her, but she rebuffs him. As the canoes set off, however, she suddenly jumps into the water and wades her way back to him.


Mogambo cast with Donald Sinden, Grace Kelly, Clark Gable, Denis O'Dea, Ava Gardner and Philip Stainton


Ava Gardner in Mogambo


In 1946, the Los Angeles Times reported MGM was considering remaking Red Dust with Marilyn Maxwell as a possible star.[3] In March 1948, Marie McDonald reportedly screen tested for the Jean Harlow part.[4] In May 1949, Maxwell and Gene Kelly were being considered for lead roles.[5]

The studio had a great deal of success with color remakes of older films shot on location overseas, including King Solomon's Mines (1950) and Quo Vadis (1951). In August 1951, MGM announced it would make Mogambo, shot on location in Africa. The producer would be Sam Zimbalist who had made King Solomon's Mines, and the star would be Clark Gable.[6]

In February 1952, Zimbalist scouted locations in Africa for six weeks. In June, John Ford agreed to direct.[7]


Shelley Winters was mentioned as a possible co-star.[8] Patricia Neal also was discussed.[9] In June 1952, Ava Gardner signed.

Grace Kelly was not the first choice for the role of Linda Nordley. Gene Tierney withdrew because she did not want to leave Aly Khan in Paris.[10]


Gable arrived in Kenya on 1 November 1952 and was given an armed guard due to the Mau Mau Uprising.[11]

Filming started 17 November. It was done on location in Okalataka, French Congo; Mount Kenya, Thika, Kenya — Mt Longonot, and Lake Naivasha, both in the Kenyan Rift Valley and Fourteen Falls near Thika are seen as backdrops — Kagera River, Tanganyika; Uganda. Samburu were filmed in front of Mount Sabachi near Archer's Post and Isiolo. Interiors were shot at the MGM-British Studios, in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England.[12]

Frank Allen and his wife were guides during the six week-safari that constituted location filming.[13]

The shoot was difficult. There was a rumor Clark Gable was going to be assassinated by the Mau Mau, so John Ford moved a location. Two of the crew were revealed to be Mau Mau.[14] The unit was plagued by rain and had a deleterious effect on the already poor quality of the roads. Three of the crew were killed in road accidents, including assistant director John Hancock.[15][16]

Donald Sinden, then a contract star for the Rank Organisation at Pinewood Studios, recalled:

"Ten White Hunters were seconded to our unit for our protection and to provide fresh meat. Among them were Viscount Mandeville and Marcus, Lord Wallscourt, a delightful man whom Ford treated abysmally - sometimes very sadistically. In Ford's eyes the poor man could do nothing right and was continually being bawled out in front of the entire unit (in some ways he occasionally took the heat off me). None of us could understand the reason for this appalling treatment, which the dear kind man in no way deserved. He himself was quite at a loss. Several weeks later we discovered the cause from Ford's brother-in-law: before emigrating to America, Ford's grandfather had been a labourer on the estate in Ireland of the then Lord Wallscourt: Ford was now getting his own back at his descendant. Not a charming sight.[17] Before leaving camp on the first morning [of shooting] I had been told to report to the hair-dressing departments tent, where I found the make-up men armed with electric clippers: 'I have to remove the hair from your chest.' 'Whatever for?' I asked, 'Orders.' It transpired that Clark [Gable], whose chest was completely devoid of hair, had always insisted that no other actor should appear on film exposing a hirsute breast. This included any member of the crew not wearing a shirt as well. He considered it a slight on his masculinity.[17] We now had to return to the MGM Studios in London to shoot all the interior scenes. Someone must have pointed out to Ford that he had been thoroughly foul to me during the entire location shoot and when I arrived for my first day's work I found that he had caused a large notice to be painted at the entrance to our sound stage in capital letters reading "BE KIND TO DONALD WEEK". He was as good as his word - for precisely seven days. On the eighth day he ripped the sign down and returned to his normal bullying behaviour."[17]


The music featured in the film was performed by local native tribes (except for Gardner accompanied by player piano), unusual for Hollywood, and the film records a traditional Africa and safari style.

Francoist Spanish censors would not allow adultery to be shown onscreen. For this reason, they changed the relationship of the characters of Linda Nordley (Kelly) and Donald Nordley (Sinden) from wife and husband to sister and brother in the dubbed version released in Spain, thus necessitating the removal of a bedroom scene in which only one bed is present.


The film was a hit — according to MGM records it made $4,576,000 in the US and Canada and $3,692,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $2,026,000.[1] It currently has a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 13 reviews.[18]

Awards and honors

Grace Kelly won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, and the film was nominated for two Oscars: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Gardner) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Kelly). The film also was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Film.


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles, California: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ The John Ford Movie Mystery - 1976 - pg. 154-155
  3. ^ Edwin Schallert (4 November 1946). "'Red Dust' Repeat May Star Marilyn Maxwell". Los Angeles Times.
  4. ^ "Hedda Hopper--Looking at Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. 30 March 1948.
  5. ^ Edwin Schallert (27 May 1949). "Bickford Named Costar With 20th Luminaries; Maxwell Deal Hinted". Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ "MGM Schedules 40 Pictures For Year". Los Angeles Times. 16 August 1951.
  7. ^ Thomas M. Pryor (12 June 1952). "Ford Will Direct Gable in 'Mogambo': Metro's Romantic Adventure to Be Filmed in Africa --Zimbalist Is Producer". New York Times.
  8. ^ Hedda Hopper (1 May 1952). "Looking at Hollywood: Comedy Role Lures Mitchum from Vacation". Chicago Daily Tribune.
  9. ^ "Albert Lewin to Film 'Saadia' in Morocco". Los Angeles Times. 10 May 1952.
  10. ^ "Drama: Cary Grant Will Do Next Film in France". Los Angeles Times. 25 September 1953.
  11. ^ "Clark Gable Given Guard in Africa". Los Angeles Times. 2 November 1952.
  12. ^ Morgan Hudgins (4 January 1953). "Bivouac on the Trail of 'Mogambo' in Africa". New York Times.
  13. ^ Don Messenger (21 September 1953). "'Safari' Makes Trek To Franklin Park Zoo: Off the Beaten Path". The Christian Science Monitor.
  14. ^ "Ava Gardner III With Dysentery". New York Times. 25 November 1952.
  15. ^ Bob Thomas (3 April 1953). "Actors Find Roads Chief Peril in Africa". The Washington Post.
  16. ^ "Clark Gable's Film Aide Dies in Africa Crash". Los Angeles Times. 19 January 1953.
  17. ^ a b c Sinden, Donald. A Touch Of The Memoirs, Hodder & Stoughton 1982; ISBN 0340262354/ISBN 9780340262351; pp. 174-75, 185
  18. ^ "Mogambo". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 11 March 2021.