“Gregory Peck makes that Hemingway kind of love to Joan Bennett in The Macomber Affair! After the biggest game of all – a woman! On the hunt he took two things as they came – the charge of a snarling lion – the fury of a fear-crazed coward – the lips of a love-crazed woman – cruelty and yearning – of such things was their love made.” So reads the original advertising concocted by the promotions department of United Artist. But overheated hype aside, The Macomber Affair, based on the short story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” by Ernest Hemingway, is a serious adult drama and is still considered by most Hemingway aficionados as one of the best screen adaptation of the oft-filmed author’s work.
The 1947 drama The Macomber Affair stars Gregory Peck as Robert Wilson, a down-on-his-luck American big-game hunter in Nairobi hired to lead a rich American couple on a trophy hunt. As the film opens he’s accompanying Margo Macomber (Joan Bennett) back from the savanna. Also on the plane is her husband’s corpse. The story of their fateful safari spins out in flashback as the authorities push the stoic Robert for the details: the failing marriage and spiteful behavior beneath the facade of a happy vacation for Margo and husband Francis (Robert Preston), the growing attraction between Robert and Margo, the determination of Francis to find a renewed sense of strength and confidence on the hunt. Classic Hemingway themes and macho values played out on the author’s favorite field of battle: man against nature.
My feature on Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner in running on Turner Classic Movies Online.
At first glance, the elegiac rodeo drama Junior Bonner (1972) might seem to be an anomaly in the career of Sam Peckinpah, famed as the director of controversial studies in violence such as The Wild Bunch (1969) and Straw Dogs (1971). That was surely one of the factors that attracted Peckinpah to this gentle tale of aging rodeo champion Junior Bonner (Steve McQueen), who returns to his hometown of Prescott, Arizona, for his first rodeo in a year – and a return match with an unbeaten bull named Sunshine. Yet the themes couldn’t be more suited to the director. Bonner is the last of the cowboy loners in the modern world where housing developments and high finance tear down the past. Peckinpah’s first contemporary western is another tale of an outmoded hero in a changing landscape, the (symbolic) descendant of the heroes of Ride the High Country (1962), The Wild Bunch and (later) Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973).
Steve McQueen, who was looking for a change of pace role, signed on to play Junior and the film was rushed into production to shoot during the real-life Frontier Days Rodeo in Prescott. Peckinpah hurried back to the states from England, where he had been editing Straw Dogs, and quickly cast the supporting roles. Robert Preston plays Junior’s father Ace, a former rodeo champion now coasting on his glory and fantasizing about prospecting for gold in Australia. Ida Lupino is Junior’s mother, tired of Ace’s irresponsibility but still fond of the old charmer. And Joe Don Baker plays Junior’s wheeler-dealer of a brother, who buys out the family homestead and builds a housing development on it.
The film plays on Turner Classic Movies on August 27. Read the complete feature on TCM here.