White Hunter, Black Heart seems even more impressive today than when it came out, and certainly didn't deserve its fate as the biggest box-office disaster of Eastwood's career - the same year's unsuccessful release of The Rookie took ten times more money and even Pink Cadillac outgrossed it (and that never got released outside the US). Interestingly, it seems well aware of it's problem for a main stream audience and goes out of its way to prepare them for the huge shift of tone in the last reels, setting up its own dark ending with its wonderfully written and performed early arguments about lousy little gods deciding who lives or dies in the movies. Indeed, the first half is so much fun that you tend not to notice its setting up some big issues along the way - racism, anti-Semitism, honesty, obsession and above all morality. Morality and responsibility ignored in favor of indulgence and impulse, however charismatic and entertaining it may seem, run throughout the film as Eastwood's John Huston - sorry, John Wilson - sets out to commit "the only sin you can buy a license to commit."
It's easily Eastwood's most unusual and atypical performance, abandoning his own screen persona for a large as life approximation rather than an impersonation of John Huston: the vocal cadences are there but downplayed, along with the vainglory and self-awareness. It's a fine performance and just his bad luck that Angelica Huston was on the Cannes jury that year. (African Queen co-producer John Woolf also went out of his way to damn the film as `irresponsible lies' despite its admission that its fiction.) Visually the best looking of Eastwood's films as a director, possibly because it's shot in daylight for once (Eastwood has often commented on not having plastic surgery: true, but he does tend to turn all the lights out in interior scenes instead!), but also because the visual design is so interesting, particularly as Wilson increasingly sets himself apart from the rest of the cast and crew, relegated to brooding in foreground shadows. Impressive stuff, and very entertaining with it - and a quick nod to George Dzundza's thinly-disguised Sam Spiegel while I'm at it.