Mogambo: Clark Gable’s Navy Polo and Khakis
Clark Gable as Victor Marswell, big game hunter
Kenya, Summer 1952
Release Date: October 9, 1953
Director: John Ford
Costume Designer: Helen Rose
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Red Dust was a steamy 1932 pre-Code drama that starred Clark Gable as a rugged yet caddish outdoorsman embroiled in a love triangle with the brassy Jean Harlow and the classy Mary Astor. The film was remade two decades later with Gable reprising his similar role though, in true Hollywood fashion, the two female leads were recast with the younger Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, respectively.
The cast was relatively new to director John Ford, who had cultivated his “stock company” over four decades of filmmaking with familiar faces like John Wayne, Ward Bond, Harry Carey, and of course, the director’s brother Francis Ford.
Mogambo would be John Ford’s only collaboration with Clark Gable, who reportedly did not get along with the director and once walked off the set to protest Ford’s treatment of Ava Gardner. However, Gable was certainly the center of enough off-screen drama of his own from his affair with the much-younger Grace Kelly to his insistence that any male cast or crew member with more hair on his chest than Gable be forced to shave it off any day that the more hirsute man would appear shirtless on set.
Gable had little to worry about when it came to his on-screen image, however. Mogambo begins with his character, Victor Marswell, wakened with news of a black leopard to be captured. With little time to lose, Victor leaps from his tent, grabs his Winchester Model 70 rifle, and leads the hunt. Unfortunately, the oafish Boltchak (Eric Pohlmann) blows their chance at bagging the black panther, and a grumpy Victor returns to his abode where he is… uh, frustrated? upon finding Eloise “Honey Bear” Kelly (Ava Gardner) using his shower.
Within a week, Victor and Kelly (she prefers her last name) have immersed themselves in a romance – well, one person’s “romance” is another’s fling – when the sensitive, mannered British couple Donald and Linda Nordley (Grace Kelly) arrive. Victor is immediately smitten with the latter and gives her the following advice:
Out here, we have three antidotes for everything: quinine, iodine, and castor oil.
What’d He Wear?
Victor Marswell’s chosen profession as a big game hunter warrants the frequent wearing of khaki safari attire, which will be featured in its own post later this year. When not dressed for the hunt, Victor’s go-to casual wear consists of a comfortable navy-colored cotton-knit polo shirt. The short-sleeve polo shirt has a large, soft collar and two white mother-of-pearl buttons.
Later, when the Nordleys arrive, Victor wears a red cotton bandanna tied around his neck, first sticking out of his shirt then tucked into the shirt under the fastened second button. The kerchief is patterned in the traditional white-and-black paisley on a red ground.
Victor wears the same pleated khaki trousers that he often wears with his safari garb. These full-fitting slacks have a high rise with tall, slim belt loops and double forward-facing pleats on each side. The trousers have slightly slanted side pockets, two jetted button-through pockets just under the rear belt line, and the bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
Victor’s wide web belt is more of a true khaki color than his tan trousers, and the edges are trimmed in brown leather. The belt fastens with a slim brass buckle.
Victor’s brown suede boots are the subject of a few continuity errors as the shade alternates throughout the scenes from a light sand-colored suede to a richer tobacco brown suede, as well as a shot during the initial panther hunt that shows them to be a darker chocolate calf leather.
His most frequently seen boots are the lighter sand-colored suede ankle-high boots with derby lacing and a moc toe-box. Though he wears mustard-gold cotton lisle socks, the tops of the boots are also covered with gray leg-warmers in some scenes.
Another continuity error can be linked to Gable’s wrist. When Victor Marswell first awakens in his tent, he isn’t wearing a watch, but the next shot suddenly shows him to be wearing a gold tank watch on a brown leather strap. Is it the same Cartier Tank he wore two decades earlier when playing essentially the same role in Red Dust?
We don’t have time to find out, as Gable’s wrist is adorned for the hunt – and for the rest of the film – with the actor’s own yellow-gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual, ref. 6011. This 14-karat timepiece with its faded off-white matte dial and textured black leather strap was included in a 2013 auction of other Hollywood memorabilia.
Victor wears a gold signet ring on his left pinky, a real-life affectation of Clark Gable who wore signet rings exclusively on that finger through most of his professional career.
Victor also favors a few different well-worn hats for his adventures on safari. The first hat he dons, for the opening black panther hunt, is a tan safari-style fedora with a thin brown leather band.
Later, for the arrival of the Nardleys, Victor wears a more conventional-looking fedora made from khaki felt with a lighter beige band.
The Bond Connection?
Mogambo was released in October 1953, several months after the first publication of Ian Fleming’s novel Casino Royale. The novel wouldn’t be adapted into an official James Bond film until more than five decades later when it was Daniel Craig’s cinematic inauguration as agent 007.
The 2006 film established a fresh direction in casual wear for Bond as the blue polo shirt became a new staple of the agent’s dressed-down wardrobe. In fact, an early scene in Casino Royale finds Craig’s 007 arriving in the Bahamas wearing a navy short-sleeve polo shirt from Sunspel, khaki casual trousers, a brown belt, and brown suede boots.
The similarities are almost certainly coincidental, but it’s worth noting the timelessness of the dark navy polo shirt, khakis, and brown suede boots on different style icons over the span of a half-century.
How to Get the Look
Clark Gable’s no-nonsense hunter in Mogambo takes a classic approach to dressing casually in a navy polo and khakis that keep him casual and cool in his warm, stressful environment.
- Navy cotton-knit short-sleeve polo shirt
- Red paisley neckerchief
- Khaki double forward-pleated trousers with tall belt loops, slightly slanted side pockets, jetted button-through back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Dark khaki web belt with brown leather trim and brass buckle
- Sand-colored suede derby-laced moc-toe ankle boots
- Mustard-gold cotton lisle socks
- Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 6011 yellow-gold wristwatch on textured black leather strap
- Gold signet ring, worn on left pinky
- Khaki safari-style fedora
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
This happens to be my home! Be it ever so humble.
Hmmmm……so you’re mad because Ava Gardner is using your shower???……hmmmmmm…..
It’s a character moment where I truly cannot relate! Hahaha