Freedom means different things to different people. White Mischief is about people to whom freedom means “bad” behavior. Elspeth Huxley’s idea of freedom (I’m reading The Mottled Lizard, which is the continuation of The Flame Trees of Thika.) is a horse she likes and not having to dress up. Bad behavior takes a lot of money, evidently, but not having to dress up can be done with only a bank loan.
These are formidable women in White Mischief. Charles Dance, so cleancut in The Raj Quartet (which made his name as an actor) is now reduced to wearing pearls and a long gown, though he looks rather well even in those. Joss Ackland, who was such a resourceful menace in Heat of the Sun is now a cowardly killer of small dogs. However, this may be where he got the idea of pretending to be very drunk in order to cover up a crime, which recurs as a plot point in Heat of the Sun.
The only man as steely as the women is John Hurt as a zillionaire who has “gone native.” He ends up with Greta Scaachi who evidently just can’t keep her breasts tucked in, though they clearly don’t have implants. The Masai in this version have long spears and red blankets, which Elspeth would find authentic, but they look rather Somalian to me. Tillie Huxley would make short work of the whole outfit. Well, maybe not Sarah Miles who has a python for a buddy or Geraldine Chaplin whose real companion is her black butler. (It’s hard to blame her since she’s legally married to a riddled old Trevor Howard character.) Tillie and Elspeth might rather enjoy those two.
Antonioni, the famous film director, has died just days from the death of Bergman, so different but equally famous and influential. This movie is as though Antonioni were the guide -- all louche and luxurious, though rather constrained by being based on facts. (Evidently actually true, according to the descendant who reviewed the movie on imdb.com.) It’s part of the conviction than if one is sordid while wearing wonderful clothes and living in a fabulous and relatively lawless place, one is actually having a wonderful life. That has not been my real life observation.
Still, I see in the “news” this morning is that Ted Turner has “stolen” the wife of Robert Olen Butler, Elizabeth Dewberry. But it’s all very adult and a matter of letting her find her own identity, so she won’t be overshadowed by Butler, who has a Pulitzer for his writing. Right. The way Jane Fonda was overshadowed by Ted Turner. Turner, Butler tells us, is not monogamous and maintains a small, um, harem whom he treats very well. In fact, Dewberry writes solitarily three weeks out of the month and then spends a month with Ted. Isn’t this a plot for someone to write? But the actors in White Mischief are too old to take the parts, I suppose. We don’t believe this kind of stuff unless all the women involved are drop-dead gorgeous and young. Anyway, Butler, Dewberry and Turner aren’t even in the American West, much less Africa.
When people do the same sort of stuff around here, except looking like their ordinary selves and drinking low-class beverages out of the can, they are looked down on. But this is the boonies where people are unenlightened and don’t KNOW how to be so glamorous. Maybe if they watched White Mischief... No, I don’t think it would work. You need professionals to get things to look right and a good script writer to put clever sayings in your mouth. But, you know, Greta started out as a cowgirl in Australia, so anything could happen. There are a few tall blonde girls around here who are steely enough to become movie stars or marry millionaires.
This movie follows The Raj Quartet by a few years but is twenty years earlier than Heat of the Sun. Therefore the male actors in White Mischief are still working, if alive, but the female actors are all, alas, retired. Especially in the “cocktail party funeral” scene, the women made me think of the Elven people in the Lord of the Rings, who also have the problem of a world that is ending. Still, I may be wrong. Scacchi has made a couple of movies every year thru the Eighties and Nineties and is in production right now.
The fashion in champagne glasses -- which these people never put down -- changed sometime after this film. These days no one drinks champagne from breast-shaped stemware. (I forget whose breast was supposed to be the inspiration.) It’s all flutes so one can see the silver strings of bubbles. But the clothes and esp. the hats still look quite fashionable. The unanimous criticism of this film is the AWFUL electronic lounge music, way too loud and totally dissonant with what’s happening on the screen. It must be meant to be ironic or anti-romantic, somehow sophisticated, but it’s just irrelevant noise.
I guess the bottom line is that this is a movie for guys and not a movie for those of us who value the horizon and the wind sweeping down the plains. But I DID like the John Hurt character and I think the story of what happens to the Greta character after she goes off with the John Hurt character might be pretty interesting -- especially if there are a lot of charismatic megamammals besides Zebu cattle. Out of Africa was both earlier and, in my opinion, better: far clearer about what it wanted to be though it, too, was based on a reality. Now back to the clear-eyed wit of Elspeth Huxley in print.