The nineteenth century in Stanley and Livingstone (1939) is much like the twentieth century in that the work that men do takes them far from home and into remote areas, and the men aren’t even soldiers. One of them, Dr. Livingstone (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), is a missionary who might have died in Africa, but didn’t. Henry Stanley (Spencer Tracy) is a newspaper man assigned to hunt down Livingstone if rumors of his death are false.
What would be corny in movies today, such as some stuff involving Walter Brennan, was not considered corny in 1939, although there is not that much corniness at all in this absorbing Henry King film. Much of it is quite mature (there is intelligent talk) and well-meaning, with some captivating, Kenya-provided safari footage. Even the less than believable hot pursuit of Stanley and his helpers, who have virtually no arms, by many hostile natives is something to see. As for the acting, a lot of grounded work gets done. Spencer Tracy is just Spencer Tracy—but this works. Hardwicke is truly fine as a man of God, while Brennan, Charles Coburn, Nancy Kelly and others are exactly right. Congrats all around.