I haven’t participated in MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur since April, when I reviewed the 1966 movie, Born Free. To make up for some of that lost time, I decided to review a film for July’s event. This month, the theme is “Movies of the Outdoors”. That means the majority of the film has to take place outdoors or the movie has to significantly feature nature within the story. In a search for ideas, I turned to a book that I’ve had in my possession since last year: Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies & Video Guide 1989 Edition. The pages of this text revealed a title I had never even heard of before. In 1962, 20th Century Fox released a live-action production titled The Lion. Leonard gave this project two out of four stars, saying “Beautiful scenery of Kenya is far better than melodrama about young girl attached to pet lion, with family concerned it is turning her into a savage”. With curiosity getting the better of me, I chose to seek this movie out as my contribution for July’s Genre Grandeur! But will I end up agreeing or disagreeing with Leonard? Keep reading in order to find out!
Things I liked about the film:
William Holden and Capucine’s banter: While The Lion is the fourth film of William Holden’s I have seen, it is also the first film of Capucine’s I have seen. Despite this, I really liked hearing the banter between their characters, Robert and Christine! After Robert arrives at the game reserve’s guest house, Christine reminds him how he is now on a game reserve. In a nonchalant manner, Robert tells her that he won’t bite the animals. In this film, there was a hint of a laid-back persona with William Holden’s character. Even though this was not Robert’s strongest character trait, William pulled it off flawlessly, making his line sound like a piece of natural conversation. Another collection of banter between these characters carried a more serious tone later in the film. When Christine questions Robert’s reason for coming to Africa, he says “I’m here, aren’t I”? In my review of The World of Suzie Wong, I said that William Holden’s performance in that movie was consistent. His and Capucine’s performance in The Lion was consistent as well, each actor delivering their lines with effective execution!
The scenery: The natural landscape of Africa is one of the reasons why I chose to watch this film. Similar to the 1966 movie, Born Free, the African fields served as the principal scenery for The Lion, almost like the landscape itself served as a character in its own right. When Robert’s plane first flies to the game reserve, an establishing shot of a massive mountain is predominantly featured in the background. It was such a beautiful piece of earth, with its white and light blue hues glistening on screen. Like Born Free, the African plains are given multiple opportunities to be featured. But in The Lion, there were other locales that were shown. When Tina, Robert and Christine’s daughter, is on her way to introduce Robert to her pet lion, King, she walks along a winding path. One part of this scene shows Tina and Robert walking past a huge waterfall. While I wish this waterfall had been shown for a longer period of time, it highlights how there are various types of landscapes within Africa.
Pamela Franklin’s performance: I am not familiar with Pamela Franklin’s filmography. However, she gave a solid performance in The Lion! While watching her portrayal of Tina, I couldn’t help being reminded of Hayley Mills in films such as The Parent Trap. This is because, like Hayley, Pamela carried herself with confidence and a strong sense of self, especially for a young person. These qualities in character paired nicely with Tina’s headstrong personality. Pamela also brought enough emotionality to make her role sympathetic. Whenever she is instructing her per lion, King, on what she wants him to do, you can tell Tina truly cares about him. In one scene, King is leaving with a mate. As Tina is begging him to stay, desperation could be seen and heard in her eyes and voice. Everything I’ve been saying allowed Pamela to still the show!
What I didn’t like about the film:
Use of the words “wild” and “savage”: In The Lion, there are a few moments where Robert and Christine use the words “wild” or “savage” when referring to Tina’s interest in the local wildlife and African tribe. At one point, Christine fears her daughter will grow up to be “wild”. I know the ‘60s were a different time compared to the 2020s. But that is not the reason why I didn’t like the characters’ use of the words “wild” and “savage”. By them choosing those words to refer to Tina’s interests, they fail to understand the importance of these subjects. Throughout the movie, Christine, Robert, and even John worry about who Tina will grow up to be in the future. Instead, they should have taken the time to get to know her in the present. Since Tina’s passion for wildlife and her appreciation for the local African tribe is common knowledge to everyone in her life, her parents could have chosen to homeschool their daughter. Those aforementioned interests could have served as the basis for various academic subjects, with Tina’s parents guiding and protecting her along the way. Tina’s upbringing in Africa and a strong educational foundation might afford her a good chance to be accepted into a reputable university. If her parents took the initiative to nurture their daughter’s love for animals, maybe she would have become a veterinarian or operate her own wildlife sanctuary. Some people say “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. However, Christine and Robert’s words fail to recognize a middle ground where all parties are satisfied.
Poor special effects: As I just said in my previous point, the ‘60s were a different time compared to the 2020s. One way this is made apparent is the quality of the technology used in cinema. Sometimes, actors will be placed in front of a green screen, in an attempt to present the illusion that the actors are in a particular location. A few scenes in The Lion showed some of the characters driving through the fields of Africa, with pre-filmed shots of this landscape shown in the background. But during these on-screen trips, a faint but visible blue glow could be seen outlining the characters. This technological error prevented me from getting fully immersed in these scenes. Toward the end of the movie, rain was shown falling in one scene. But the special effect used looked like small images of raindrops lay on top of the scene’s picture instead like looking like the raindrops were falling in that world. That also ruined the illusion of being in the movie’s space.
A drawn-out conflict: Like I already mentioned before, Tina’s parents worry about her future. The way they talk about this conflict sounded like a dire situation. But throughout the film, there was no sense of urgency to find a resolution. Instead, several scenes focus on a safari trip John leads. While I enjoyed seeing Africa’s scenery, these scenes felt like padding to make up for the main conflict being drawn-out. Another part of the story that received more attention than the main conflict was the customs and politics of the local African tribe. I will admit that this part of the script was interesting. However, it took time away from the main conflict, causing its final outcome to be stalled. Even though Tina’s parents solve their problem, the answer doesn’t feel satisfying because of how long the problem was drawn out.
My overall impression:
Because this month’s Genre Grandeur theme is “Movies of the Outdoors”, I knew The Lion would be the perfect choice for this event. As expected, the scenery in the film presented a pleasant picture to look at. But like I quoted in my review of To Catch a Spy, “The scenery can’t save you”. That is certainly the case for the 1962 movie. The pieces of a good project were there; from the strong acting performances to interesting conflicts. But the overall direction wasn’t focused. Instead of working to find a resolution to the film’s main conflict, the story traveled down side paths. This placed more emphasis on other parts of the plot and caused the overarching narrative to be drawn-out. I was also frustrated by the lack of initiative from Tina’s parents to help their daughter reach her full potential with the resources they already had. While I understand they wanted the best for her, they never took the time to ask Tina what she wished for. Honestly, I’d recommend Born Free over The Lion. The story of the 1966 picture is not only straight forward, but its script is also stronger.
Overall score: 6.2 out of 10
Have you seen The Lion? Which “outdoor movie” would you prefer? Tell me in the comment section below!
Have fun outside!