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This article is about the 1953 American film. For the racehorse, see Mogambo (horse). For the Indian film villain, see Mr. India.
Original movie poster
Directed by John Ford
Produced by Sam Zimbalist
Screenplay by John Lee Mahin
Based on Red Dust 
by Wilson Collison
Starring Clark Gable
Ava Gardner
Grace Kelly
Donald Sinden
Music by Robert Burns
Cinematography Robert Surtees
Freddie Young
Edited by Frank Clarke
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • October 9, 1953 (1953-10-09)
Running time 115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,103,000[1]
Box office $8,268,000[1]

Mogambo is a 1953 American adventure/romantic drama film directed by John Ford and starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly and featuring Donald Sinden. The film was adapted by John Lee Mahin from the play Red Dust, by Wilson Collison.

Mogambo is a lavish, Technicolor remake of the 1932 film Red Dust starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow and set in French Indochina. This version is set during the First Indochina War.


Ava Gardner in Mogambo

Eloise Y. "Honey Bear" Kelly (Ava Gardner) 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. While waiting for the next river boat out, she spars with hardworking big game hunter Victor Marswell (Clark Gable), who (initially) pegs her as a certain disreputable type. When the river boat returns, it brings Donald Nordley (Donald Sinden) and his wife Linda (Grace Kelly). The Nordleys wish to go on safari to film gorillas. Marswell declines to guide them. Kelly rejoins the group after the steamer runs aground. Tensions run high between the two women when Linda is also attracted to Marswell.

Marswell agrees to take the Nordleys into gorilla country, taking Kelly halfway to join the District Commissioner, who can then escort her back to civilisation. However, they find the commissioner badly wounded by recently belligerent natives. With reinforcements days away, the small party narrowly escapes, taking the mortally wounded commissioner with them.

Meanwhile, a serious romance is developing between Marswell and Linda. Only Donald is blind to the situation. Marswell plans to warn the husband, but then has second thoughts after realizing how much Donald loves her and perhaps how she would be better off with Donald remaining as her husband.

Marswell becomes depressed and begins drinking heavily in his tent. Kelly joins him, and one thing leads to another. When Linda appears, she finds them cuddling. Marswell decides that he can fix this mess 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; she shoots him with his own pistol, wounding him in the arm. Kelly lies to the others, telling them that Marswell had been making advances to Linda for some time, finally forcing her to shoot him in his drunken state.

The next day, the party breaks camp, leaving Marswell behind to try to capture young gorillas to pay for the safari. Marswell, acknowledging to himself his feelings for Kelly, proposes to her, but she rebuffs him. As a canoe takes her downriver, she suddenly jumps into the water and makes her way back to him. The two embrace.


Clark Gable and Grace Kelly in Mogambo

Production notes[edit]

Ava Gardner in Mogambo

Grace Kelly was not the first choice for the role of Linda Nordley. Gene Tierney dropped out due to her health problems.

Filming 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; Isoila, Uganda and interiors were shot at the MGM-British Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England.

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.

The Francoist Spanish censors did not allow adultery to be shown on the screen. For that reason, they changed the relationship of the characters of Linda Nordley (Grace Kelly) and Donald Nordley (Donald Sinden) from wife and husband to sister and brother in the dubbed version released in Spain. However, they did not delete a scene in which both share a bed together.

Donald Sinden, then a contract star for the Rank Organisation at Pinewood Studios, was not the only person to suffer at the hands of John Ford's notorious behavior. He recalls:

"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.[2] 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.[3] 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."[4]


The film was a massive 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]

Awards and nominations[edit]

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

In popular culture[edit]

The theme for Mogambo was loosely adapted by Mark Barber for the Auckland University College Tramping Club Revue in 1954. A party travelling down the Anawhata on the first Saturday of the May holiday discovered that the cry 'Mogambo' could be produced with great volume and had very satisfactory resonant qualities. It became a club call, of greeting or when making contact on a tramp, for many years.

Comedian Eddie Lawrence, on his 1956 novelty record King Arthur's Mines, played a great white hunter named Moe Gambo.

Murray "Murray the K" Kauffman, popular 1950s and 1960s New York City DJ, used the chant "Ah, Bey, ah bey, koowi zowa zowa" lifted from Mogambo as one of his trademark on-air phrases.

Mogambo was also the name of the main villain in the Bollywood film Mr India.

Harry Cohn once observed, "MOGAMBO is a a terrible title. MOGAMBO, starring Clark Gable and Ava Gardner, is a great title."[5]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ Sinden, Donald. A Touch Of The Memoirs Hodder & Stoughton 1982. page 174
  3. ^ Sinden 1982 p. 175
  4. ^ Sinden 1982 p. 185
  5. ^ From Story by Robert McKee p 409

External links[edit]