Aired tonight on Arte, White Hunter, Black Heart, by and with Clint Eastwood, is adapted from a novel written by screenwriter Peter Viertel, in which the latter recounted an experience that had marked him: the shooting in Uganda, in 1951, by African Queen, with a John Huston losing control …

Filmed in Africa in 1989, White Hunter, Black Heart, the fifteenth feature film by Clint Eastwood, tells the story, in the 1950s, of John Wilson (Clint Eastwood), a renowned director but who has a bad reputation in the profession, due to his cranky and egotistical temperament. Although he is covered in debt, the filmmaker decides to go to Africa to shoot his next film, convinced that it will be a masterpiece. Thrilled by the script of his friend Pete Verrill (Jeff Fahey), he invited him to go with him to finish it on the spot. But arrived in Africa with the entire production team, John Wilson displays a clear disinterest in preparing for the shoot, even neglecting his actors. The director is as if seized with a fever, that of the safari. He is gradually devoured by the obsession to kill an elephant, and is ready to take all the risks, even if it means endangering the lives of others … Through his exploration of obsession to madness, Clint Eastwood makes a plea against trophy hunting, which was very popular in the 1950s.

The mythical interpreter of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was based on the screenplay by Peter Viertel (Pete Verrill in the film), directly adapted from the novel of the same name that the latter wrote 36 years earlier, in 1953. In this book , the screenwriter romances the strange experience he had really had two years earlier with his friend the legendary director John Huston, in Uganda, while filming African Queen, one of his masterpieces. Viertel was the helpless witness of the change of personality of his friend, in contact with the Ugandan wilderness. With the help of a local guide named Kivu, John Huston, passionate about hunting, set out in search of a beautiful elephant to kill. Obsessed by one of these powerful pachyderms, he abandoned the preparations for the shoot, to the chagrin of his team and the producer.

Viertel detailed in his book the escapades and whims of the director, his stubbornness to the point of madness. The sight of this friend whom he no longer recognized, ready to do anything to satisfy his morbid impulse (to the point of risking the lives of those who accompanied them), had got the better of their friendship. It had taken a tragedy for the filmmaker of the Maltese Falcon to regain his senses and finally get to his feature film. At the time of the release of the film by Clint Eastwood, Katharine Hepburn, main actress of African Queen, had disputed the veracity of this unflattering portrayal of John Huston. Certainly, Clint Eastwood and the writers (including Viertel) had taken many liberties with the facts. But this story is inspired by very real events.

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