The Roots of Heaven (1958)

the roots of heaven 1958“The pictures that turn out to be the most difficult to make, usually turn out to be the worst – like ROOTS OF HEAVEN.”- John Huston

Well The Roots of Heaven has very little in common with the early movies of Errol Flynn.  Here he is a paunchy, somewhat jaded man who moves with the sudden quickness of the chronic drunk….and he plays the same in the movie as well and for the short time he is on screen is quite good.

By some stroke of maniacal luck, Flynn still commands top billing in what was to be, for all intents and purposes, his last major on screen role.  For his trouble, Flynn is used sparingly, only appearing in five or six scenes before being killed off halfway through the picture.

ttu7ft1mkcnjutfnHeaven isn’t so much a bad picture as it is exceedingly below expectations.  This is directed by John Huston after all.  Flynn is adequate for his short time, and Trevor Howard is convincing if uncharismatic as the outdoorsman in love with the vanishing beauty of the savannah- particularly the elephants.

It this sense perhaps there is some parallel with Huston’s earlier masterpiece The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.    However, let us not go too far down this path, as one reviewer justifiably stated that the ……  The ecological and environemental message of Heaven does owe perhaps some of its genesis to that scene in Madre where the three miners agree to restore the mountain to it pre-mined condition.

There are a few good actors sprinkled in amongst the trees – one can spot Orson Welles, Paul Lukas, and Herbert Lom all in somewhat quaint spot duty.   Unfortunately these fine gents were all signed when this was to be a vehicle for William Holden, himself an avid environmentalist.  His ultimate unavailability due to contractual reasons forced an already all-to-committed Darryl F. Zanuck into casting Trevor Howard.

It is really hard to fathom what the plot of the film is, as so many folks are introduced along with their own unneeded story lines that I personally wanted to watch the elephants stampede Trevor Howard along with the rest of them.

Perhaps Huston would have been better off to film the off-screen antics which went on throughout, which reportedly included the entire crew (excluding Flynn and Huston) succumbing to chronic dysentery.  According to legend, both Flynn and Huston were spared due to the excessive amount of alcohol they were both consuming at the time.

Oh, and the one punch fight between the two (Huston and Flynn) may have been worth watching…supposedly Flynn lost rather quickly.

Yet there is some good scenery here and it is available on iTunes via download for some strange reason- when so many better films languish in some long forgotten closet.

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