Most helpful critical review
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A mixed bag...
on March 24, 2011
The only thing that I knew about this film was that it was made in 1939 (arguably the best year for cinema, period) and that it starred Spencer Tracy (one of my favorite actors of all time).
That was enough for me.
For me, this film didn't quite deliver everything I wanted it to. It really showed its age in many areas, especially in the `exploration' scenes, which lacked a lot of depth. With films like this you have to forgive certain aspects since it was a product of the era, but there are some factors here that remain drawbacks no matter how `forgiving' you want to be. I found the film's climax to be far too clichéd and unbelievable for its own good. I know the point it was making and I understand the manipulative `triumph' they were trying to instill, but certain character developments seem too faux when all is said and done, especially Charles Coburn's character, who does a complete 180 in a way that makes very little sense. Spencer Tracy is fantastic though, and he sells his final speech, which has resounding qualities which only a polished actor could conjure up.
The film tells the true story of New York reporter named Henry Stanley who travels to Africa to find a respected Scottish missionary and explorer, Dr. Livingstone, who is reported as being dead. When he finally finds his man, Stanley is impressed heavily by his work and personalized efforts to help the people he sees in dire need of help. The definition of a Christian man, Livingstone puts his own personal comforts and health aside for the betterment of his `cause'.
Tracy's performance is not the only one to mention, for Cedric Hardwick is also superb (what a great year he had in 1939; delivering outstanding performances in `On Borrowed Time', `The Hunchback of Notre Dame' as well as this film). He layers Livingstone beautifully, adding depth to the film and making up for some of the films lacking moments.
As a film about humanity and passion, it works very well. In fact, the films core is wonderfully played. The middle of the film was a joy to watch. Sadly, the pacing of the films first section and the poorly realized courtroom antics make this film less than I wanted it to be.