Dennis suggests Mountains of the Moon (in Feature Drama). This is a rollicking historical adventure about the improbably Indiana Jones-esque life of 19th century explorer, writer, and all-around lusty roisterer Sir Richard Burton, (played by Patrick Bergin, who shows glimmers, sadly soon after extinguished, of true leading man potential), centering on his expeditions to Africa with the more refined John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen) to find the purported source of the Nile, (which turned out to be Lake Victoria). Director Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces) ably steers the narrative through the stuffy halls of the Royal Geographical Society (which reviles the “gone native” Burton and his decidedly un-Victorian candor while hungering for the invaluable knowledge he invariably brings back with him), as well as the unending, mindbendingly dangerous and beautiful African desert; nothing he’s done before or since, suggests such a facility with the epic form*. Bergin is convincingly dashing as the swashbuckling, yet ethical, Burton, and his complex friendship with the more conventional Glen is the heart of the movie. With sexy support from Fiona Shaw (also showing short-lived leading lady promise), as the proper lady who reveals herself Burton’s equal in intelligence and curiosity of spirit, and an early, typically dignified performance by Delroy Lindo, as an African man, rescued by Burton, who becomes a trusted companion. Exciting, sexy, rich, and provocative, this completely overlooked gem** is just waiting for you to discover it.
*That’s not a slight to Mr. Rafelson. His movies Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, and Stay Hungry are three of the best films of the 1970s (perhaps the best decade for movies ever); Mountains of the Moon was, and is, something completely different for him. I genuinely hope he gets another chance someday.
*so undiscovered, in fact, that it has never been released on DVD; dust off the VCR- this one’s worth it.