Like Cimarron in South Africa

Like Cimarron in South Africa

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Dec 24th 2018

There’s no question that the romance-driven, continent-spanning Cinemascope action epic Untamed (1955) was certainly the biggest Hollywood sound-era studio movie bearing that moniker. The turbulent chronicle of a spirited and ambitious Irish potato-famine era refugee (Susan Hayward) who emigrates to South Africa to rebuild her life via homesteading – and possibly reconnect with the handsome Boer cavalry commander (Tyrone Power) she first met in the Emerald Isle when he was there buying horses to equip his troops – certainly covered more ground than the previous outings that used the title, although both had equally attractive couples in the leads (Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery in a 1929 MGM thriller set between New York and South America, Ray Milland and Patricia Morison in Paramount’s 1940 snowbound Canada-set B-picture). This Untamed had Gone with the Wind-scaled ambitions; indeed, the heroine of the 1950 Helga Moray novel on which it is based shared the name of Katie with Margaret Mitchell’s indefatigable Scarlett, and to its credit, the film boasts gorgeous location footage actually shot in Ireland and in South Africa’s Cape Town, Durban and KwaZulu-Natal to fill the sprawling wide screen, with ace cinematographer (and two-time Academy Award® nominee) Leo Tover framing the camera to make it all, as Twentieth Century Fox’s ad blurbs proclaimed, “Africolossal!” 

For Power, it would mark the final film in his 19-year Fox contract (although The Sun Also Rises (1957), independently produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, would chalk up one more credit at the studio). For long-time Fox mainstay, Wilson (1944) Academy Award® winner Barbara McLean, it would mark her last on-screen Film Editing credit. A pioneer in her proficiency, she’d already become Fox’s editing division chief in 1949 and stayed with the studio until her 1969 retirement. Among her astonishing list of 64 credits, 29 of those films, including Lloyds of London (1936, Power’s starmaking vehicle), In Old Chicago (1937), Jesse James (1939),The Song of Bernadette (1943), the aforementioned Wilson, Captain from Castile (1947, a Twilight Time title), Twelve O’Clock High (1949) and The Gunfighter (1950), teamed her with Untamed director Henry King, who considered this particular project “like Cimarron in South Africa.” Her specialty was extremely important in this instance, because the huge effort would be a technically ambitious melding of California studio-shot principal-actors footage with location photography into a seamless whole, via rear-screen projection, and it all works with astonishing fluidity. And, according to King, as interviewed by David Shepard and Ted Perry for their 1995 compendium Henry King Director: From Silents to ’Scope, there was a certain liquidity required in the KwaZulu-Natal logistics at the South African location site named Zanuckville for the Fox production chief: “I took a crew to Durban and Cape Town, South Africa, where we had our big moment with the Zulus. They are wards of the government and when you have a Zulu working in a picture you have to comply with all the government requirements. We had 3,500 of them in a camp. They had to be covered, so we furnished them with tents. They provided their own bedding. And there was a stipulation that they must have so many liters of beer – not beer that can be bought, but beer they make themselves. They provided the brewing process and the men to make it and they set up a brewery right there on location, a fermentation and siphoning system. It’s horrible stuff to taste, I thought, but they like it. They also specified the food you must furnish them and they prepared it.” The region’s history still loomed large in 1954 during the shoot. King added: “We had a rather strange experience. We were reproducing the period of history of the Zulu Wars and one day a man, about 90 years old, wearing just a little loincloth, came down the road, carrying a big staff. He wanted to know where the war was. I said, ‘Why?’ He said he wanted to get into it, just wanted to kill a few more whites. The old man had been there since the Boer War. There’s still a little animosity. They can’t forget the past.” 

Also starring Richard Egan, John Justin, Agnes Moorehead, Rita Moreno, Hope Emerson, Brad Dexter and Henry O’Neill, Untamed charges onto TT hi-def Blu-ray in the form of a newly completed 4K restoration transfer and equipped with a stunning 3-channel-stereo Isolated Music Track of its well-regarded, wide-ranging symphonic score by film composer emeritus Franz Waxman. Whether with a beer or other beverage, you can marvel at the sonic and scenic scope of Untamed beginning January 22. Preorders open January 9.