A remake after Clark Gable’s 1932 film Red Dust, Mogambo (1953), directed by John Ford, was shot on location in Africa. Ava Gardner is a show girl who winds up stranded in the hunting outpost of Victor Marswell (Clark Gable), a big-game hunter, who also runs a safari, and the two soon start an affair. She is a natural fit for Gable. Donald Sinden plays Donald Nordley, an English anthropologist, who hires Victor to take him and his wife into the African wild. Grace Kelly is in the role of the wife, Linda, outwardly stiff and prim, but secretly harboring a lust for Victor. A love triangle unfolds on the background of the beautiful and rugged African landscape. A film of adventure and romance, Mogambo was a commercial success, thanks to the star-power of its actors.
Helen Rose was the designer and we have the chance to see a variety of styles here, ranging from practical safari clothes to evening gowns. I also like the impracticability of the glamorous red lips, strands of pearls, high heels and chunky gold link bracelets that we constantly see even in the middle of the safari. But it is the safari looks that work up the imagination and an active spirit. Casual but classy, the safari style is “a romantic symbol of elegance and adventure”. A style that is elegant and utilitarian, formed of khakis, safari shirts, jodhpurs, midi skirts with riding leather boots, linen jackets and scarves, set against the wild landscape and rugged beauty of Africa.
The safari jacket was part of the westerners’ clothing in Africa. Initially part of the equipment of European soldiers serving in warm climates starting from the 19th century, for its comfort (it kept the heat out) and practicality (its beige colour was a great camouflage in the desert), the safari jacket entered the civilian gentleman’s wardrobe in the 1930s. Ernest Hemingway often wore one. In the films of the 1950s, which shaped the audience’s romanticised vision of Africa, the safari jacket was the costume of explorers and adventurers in far-flung locations, and nobody wore it more sensually than Ava Gardner in Mogambo.
Grace makes her entrance in her own safari suit, with soft skirt, white gloves, satchel bag and pith helmet. This time, the look says ladylike demeanor. I like the lapel-less shirt. If there is one thing I dislike about a shirt look is too see a shirt with its lapels spread all over a blazer or jacket worn on top. This was Grace Kelly and Helen Rose’s first film collaboration and the latter would become one of the three costume designers, along with Oleg Cassini and Edith Head, who would help the actress shape up her personal style.
Ava and Grace were both nominated for the Oscar for their performances, but Ava outshines the perfect and unassailable Grace, and she steals the show from both Gable and Kelly. Feisty, red-blooded and cool, Gardner is enticing and she also has the best lines in the movie. Grace Kelly once remarked: “When Ava Gardner gets in a taxi, the driver knows at once she’s Ava Gardner. It’s the same for Alana Turner or Elizabeth Turner, but not for me. I’m never Grace Kelly. I’m always someone who looks like Grace Kelly.”
It’s interesting how the choice of costumes reveal the plot and character traits. It seems like the roles are switched when Grace is wearing the purple dress and Ava is wearing the white dress. Linda is the tempted wife and Eloise is the seductress with a heart of gold.
Although the two leading ladies are dressed similarly, they wear their outfits so differently, which reflects their different personalities. Linda wears everything by the book, everything is very posh, refined and very English about her. Eloise’s style is more relaxed, unstudied and carefree: turned up sleeves and pants, popped up collars, hair cut short – she is very confident of her attractiveness. Even the styles of the hats differ: Ava opts for a canvas safari hat.
A tan wool safari jacket with suede elbows, pleated pockets, front zip and partially lined in silk.
photos: stills from the film (except for the top photo, a publicity still), Classiq Journal. Credit: MGM
That’s it, I need to see this one again because I remember Africa and safari but I probably didn’t pay as much attention to the wardrobe as I would do today. That look in the top photo – love it. Ava Gardner … I just love her!
I need to use the word love again because the still (no. 18) you captured of the two of them speaks to me; the one where Ava is wearing the brown belt and Grace is wearing the red neckerchief. After all this time, I still remember those outfits. Don’t get me started on all the shirts that appear in the film.
Beautiful and inspiring post, Ada … as always!
Oh yeah, hands down Ava Gardner shines in this one! Grace Kelly comes across too needy and annoying for me. Ava looks hot – cropped hair, cinched waist, full skirt, cool shirts – she’s beautiful.
Great website! I really enjoyed reading the article and looking at the photos. Well done!