Once upon a time, films like Golden Ivory were a Saturday afternoon TV staple, offering jungle based thrills for audiences who weren’t interested in watching Grandstand or World of Sport. Of course, like the related Tarzan movies, they have long since been banished from the screen – TV executives and programmers seeing this sort of thing as the very height of imperialist, racist cinema. Perhaps they are right – but it seems a shame that an entire era of adventure movies is now considered beyond the pale. Thankfully, there are no restrictions (yet) on politically incorrect old movies appearing on home video, and so some of these old movies are at least having a new lease of life on DVD.
Golden Ivory was issued in the US as White Huntress, which must have led to several disappointed punters, given that the film is entirely devoid of savage yet beautiful jungle girls. And despite the promises of the poster, at no point does the movie feature a semi-naked woman with flowing blonde locks in mortal combat with a deadly python. Romantic lead Susan Stephen has short hair, wears an ankle length skirt and while she does come into contain with a snake, at no point do things become as dramatic as the poster suggests. I wonder how audiences of the time felt after handing over their hard earned to see the film promised on the poster, only to sit through a somewhat plodding melodrama.
Set in 1899, Golden Ivory is, in fact, a pioneer Western set in Kenya, the Masai standing in for the Indians and not-so-Great White Hunters Robert Urquhart and John Bentley replacing the cowboys. The pair are brothers Jim and Paul Dobson, who hear from a colleague about the location of the legendary Elephant’s Graveyard. The fact that the man has passed this information on in his dying breath doesn’t put them off, and with dreams of Ivory wealth in their minds, they decide to head out in search of the location. They hook up with a family of settlers who are heading out to settle the savage lands of East Africa, despite an earlier run-in with the Masai (who, rather understandably, are less keen on the idea of Europeans ‘civilising’ the land they already occupy).
For much of the first half of the film, very little happens beyond a lot of wildlife material (enough of which includes the actors to not be stock footage) and the odd bit of bickering between the hunters and the settlers. Eventually though, director George Breakston (an ex-pat French American who lived in Kenya and made a whole bunch of films like this) remembers that he’s shooting more than just a wildlife picture and develops a bit of a story. In order to head towards the rumoured location of the Elephant’s Graveyard, Paul convinces Jim to lie to the settlers about danger up ahead, requiring them to change direction, even though this takes them into the heart of Masai country. En route, they pick up a shifty character, Mr Seth (Alan Tarlton), who claims to be a prospector but seems involved in a mysterious massacre of diamond miners, leading to more mistrust, and are set upon by a band of bloodthirsty natives before initially arriving at the spot they aim to settle and reaching an uneasy truth with the local natives (as you might expect, the natives in this film are all either noble savages or bloodthirsty killers). Meanwhile Jim is falling for Ruth (Stephen) while Paul is becoming more belligerent, and as the pot of gold he is obsessed with seems nowhere to be found, he splits from the group and sets out to convince the local Masai that the settlers are the first of many, and should be wiped out. The film suggests that he is a manipulative liar, though history tells us that he was telling the truth.
Once it gets going, Golden Ivory isn’t a bad little jungle romp. The action scenes are fairly well done and it moves from incident to incident at a fair pace. It’s just a pity it takes so long for the film to reach this stage. The first half is decidedly slow moving by comparison, and the less committed viewer might feel inclined to give up before anything starts to happen.
Urquhart, who you might remember as the stick-in-the-mud hero of The Curse of Frankenstein, is a solid enough hero, though he seems a little bland. You know right away that he’ll be the good guy, because he’s clean-shaven, while his brother is stubbly and a boozehound. If this was a regular western, they’d probably have white and black hats to emphasise the point. Bentley is a little more interesting as the villain of the piece (and it’s interesting that he’s portrayed as far worse than the probably murderer they invite to join them midway through!). As the heroine, Stephen is required to wander off into the bush on regular occasions in order to be rescued from non-threats but has little else to do. Interestingly, she has a nipple-revealing wet-shirt scene towards the end that seems startling for 1954 – it’s entirely possible that the print being released is one of those hotter ‘continental’ versions, given that nudity was still entirely forbidden by the BBFC at the time.
In the end, Golden Ivory features as much gold and ivory as it does white huntresses (i.e. none), but is an enjoyable enough old school jungle adventure. It probably would’ve been a lot more fun if Urquhart’s character had been replaced by Tarzan, though…