White Hunter Black Heart


With Christmas and the New Year just passed, as s a UK script consultant and script writer for hire I’m reminded that there’s nothing better than spending the holidays watching old films.

Fancy an old film filled with adventure, daring and starring a cool old fashioned tough guy actor?  Why not watch John Huston’s The African Queen (1951)?

Or better still; why not watch the film about the making of John Huston’s The African Queen?  White Hunter Black Heart (1990) is a drama that shows what Mr Huston got up to when making his film in Africa, and Huston was a ‘real’ old fashioned tough guy, much tougher than Bogart ever was in the film they were making.

Clint Eastwood plays ‘Huston’ and the film is based on a very good book by Huston’s friend, the screenwriter Peter Viertel, who did uncredited re-writes on The African Queen and was with Huston while he was on location in Africa.

It seems Huston spent most of the time, drinking, fighting and trying to shoot an elephant and endangering lives as he did all of the above.

Eastwood is good in the film, a bit too glib at times, but Huston wasn’t always a likeable character, and the film explores this.

It’s a funny, mad film, and the cast is filled with some very good performances, a lot of them from English character actors like Tim Spall and Alan Armstrong. Jeff Fahey is good as the abused screenwriter Viertel who would work with Huston again and again including on Beat the Devil.

Huston was a ‘character’. A gambler, a rough fighter, a hunter, a heavy drinker and someone who could direct very good, and sometimes great films when he was interested, (and he could as easily be as not interested as any great director).

Huston came from a kind of Hollywood royalty (his Dad was Walter Huston) and the dynasty continues with his daughter Angelica and son Danny.

As well as being a director, Huston was an actor too, especially later in life, and he was a good actor. His Noah Cross in Chinatown is one of the great villains of film. Indeed, Huston was often cast as bad guys, or men whom it would be foolish to trust. This film shows why in real life, it would be foolish to trust Huston.

Eastwood is filmic royalty, and he has this in common with Huston. Although Clint could never be (and isn’t in this film) as caustic and cynical as the real life John Huston.

Huston was a dark prince, Hollywood royalty in exile.  White Hunter Black Heart is an entertaining picture, which would have pleased John Huston, but Eastwood never pans for the gold, which is buried in the heart of Huston. A dark heart, which would be very hard to find.

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor  and script doctor for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on matcoop23@yahoo.co.uk or hire him on Peopleperhour

His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller Markham will be released in 2020.