RUN MACOMBER RUN
During the hunt for the big game, we learn Wilson has rules about fair play and sportmanship. One of them is you don’t shoot an animal from a moving jeep. It just isn’t sporting. Out of the jeep and on foot, they tail a lion. When it turns and charges them, Macomber runs faster than Forrest Gump. I audibly gasped when I saw that. Yes the human survival instinct kicked in and he was getting the hell out of Dodge, and I could understand that…sort of. I mean, he played like he was the big man on campus the whole time.
Look, we all want our men to be great white hunters ( no matter what color we are ). Some of us may want the sensitive, egg-headed, Leslie Howard / Alan Alda-type. But the other 95.3752% of us want our men to be brave and heroic; to protect us whether we’re in the jungle or in the supermarket; the heartlands or midtown. I was really in shock. But more importantly, seeing this chilled me to the core:
Margaret sees her husband run. The look on her face was devastating. As he sheepishly walks back to the jeep, I literally said to myself: “Dude, you should have let that lion kill you because now you are really in
What?! Have you not witnessed Joan Bennett’s disdain on screen? It’s a thing of beauty… from the safe distance of a balcony seat. It’s colder than the glaciers in the Arctic. It cuts through icebergs ( and your heart ) like a laser beam. When Bennett lashes out, I’m a little more scared of her than I am of Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck; and that’s saying something. And Francis Macomber is about to get a tongue-lashing. I was expecting this movie to be a good old-fashioned love-triangle. Not this. Not when you run from lions. His running away turns the movie on its head and into a different direction.
When Wilson and Macomber get back into the truck, Margaret kisses Wilson full on the lips in front of her husband. WHOA! What a ballsy move!!! What a slap in the face. Again I was in shock! Where is this movie taking? There is an attraction and probably an affair, though we don’t see any explicit evidence of that. Margaret really plays up to Wilson now, but he’s not entirely comfortable with her flaunting it:
WILSON: “Say, you wouldn’t mind dropping my beauty as a topic.”
MARGARET: “I just started.” WILSON: “Let’s chuck it.”
Joan Bennett as Margaret Macomber was wonderfully horribly contemptuous. At first I liked it because I love Lethal Ladies and felt she was justified. But then I became unhappy with her bullying and needling Macomber mercilessly. She hated him and hated that he made her feel this way; and I get that. But Robert Preston’s performance made me change my mind. He did a fantastic job as a man shamed; shamed in front of his wife, shamed in front of another man. My heart broke for him. He wasn’t really a blowhard. He seemed like an average guy when he says:
“What about my wife? She’ll look at me like a rabbit for the rest of my life.”
He sulks. He’s figuratively impotent. Maybe literally too.
I still harbor a bit of marvel at Margaret’s smiling disdain. I rationalize ( ‘she has her reasons’ ) because it’s all mixed up with my rising esteem of Bennett’s understated acting. But how does one come back from shame. What he liked and admired about everything at the beginning of the safari, Macomber now hates and loathes. And his loathing extends to Wilson. Macomber’s already beating himself up. Now his wife nails his impotency to the wall like one of those stuffed animal heads.
MACOMBER: “You think I’ll take anything, don’t you?!”
MARGARET: “I know you will, Sweet!”
Bulls eye. Game. Set. MATCH. Stick a fork in him, he’s done.
Macomber has to take his frustrations out on someone. He’s impotent with Margaret and won’t challenge the Alpha Male Wilson. So he beats up the servant. Doing that makes him look small. Good solid job by EARL SMITH as Kongoni, Wilson’s right-hand man on the safari. I really liked the healthy respect Wilson and Kongoni had for each other. There was team work with them, not subserviency or condescension. That was not a good moment for Macomber but I understood it.
BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN
Wilson is very even-handed about these events. He doesn’t cod-dle or wet nurse Macomber, but he’s not judgmental of him either. He wants Margaret too, but I was surprised and warmed to see Wilson support and encourage Macomber…like an older brother, not a rival. He’s seen this before, and probably part of his job is the well-being of the client. He doesn’t want them feeling bad about themselves. He wants Macomber to get a back bone with Margo: “…order her not to go.” My feminist dander raised for a hot moment, but then I calmed my “I-am-woman-hear-me roar” self down. He’s trying to build up Macomber’s confidence. He doesn’t Francis broken. The thought crossed my mind that Wilson wanted Macomber strong if he were going to fight to get his wife. It was some code of ethics for Wilson; the same way he would never shoot an animal from a moving jeep b’cuz he had an unfair advantage, he wanted to fight a man, not a wimp. After all, there’s a code to stealing another man’s wife fair and square.
Wilson guides Macomber to getting his confidence back with hunting more game. I thought to myself: “…listen Francis, you may get your confidence back…but you’ll never be able to touch Margaret again.” But you know what, I don’t think he wants her back now. I fairly cheer for Francis when he tells her:
“Without you’re knowing it, you’ve always wanted me as a mouse. Well now you’re going to have to get used to me as a man.”
Well good for him!
And now even Wilson sees that Margaret is really being a beeyotch. Seems like he and Macomber are kind of bonding now (much to Margo’s chagrin). They’re not exactly Spanky & Alfafa in the “He-Man Woman-Haters’ Club” but their growing mutual respect is evident.
THE COUP DE GRACE
History repeats itself and while on the hunt, a wild animal comes charging at Wilson and Macomber. Margaret grabs her rifle and shoots from the jeep. She misses and kills her husband. Does she or does she not do this on purpose? What was in her heart? An investigation must be done to get the full story. And Wilson wants some answers of his own.
I empathize with all three main characters in “The Macomber Affair.” A wife stuck in a marriage that doesn’t work for her anymore. A husband who’s a big man in the boardroom, but not where it counts. A Safari guide who has a code of ethics that gets in the way of what he wants. But there is one more person: JEAN GILLIE as barmaid Aimee. Gillie ( of film noir’s “DECOY” fame sadly dies of pneumonia at 33, shortly after making “The Macomber Affair” ) makes quite an impression in her brief appearance. She simmers and smolders with a low husky voice. Sure Aimee and Wilson had a fling. He took it for what it was…and she fell in love. As Aimee, she speaks volumes about her relationship with Wilson without saying much. She knows the fate of things to come.
“A woman would do things a man would never dream of doing. I’d murder for a man I was crazy about.”
They also serve who only stand and wait. And an African safari might be a better place to work out the kinks in your relationship than a therapist’s office. Do you want to read about some other great movies from 1947?
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( H O M E )