White Witch Doctor

White Witch Doctor is a 1953 Technicolor adventure film directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Susan Hayward, Robert Mitchum, and Walter Slezak. Made by 20th Century Fox, it was produced by Otto Lang from a screenplay by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, based on the 1950 novel by Louise A. Stinetorf. The music score (notable for its use of the serpent, an obsolete instrument) was by Bernard Herrmann, and the cinematography by Leon Shamroy.

White Witch Doctor
Original lobby card
Directed byHenry Hathaway
Produced byOtto Lang
Written byIvan Goff
Ben Roberts
Based onWhite Witch Doctor
1950 novel
by Louise A. Stinetorf
StarringSusan Hayward
Robert Mitchum
Walter Slezak
Music byBernard Herrmann
CinematographyLeon Shamroy
Edited byJames B. Clark
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
July 1, 1953 (U.S.)
Running time
96 min
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,500,000 (US rentals)[2]

The film was set in the Belgian Congo in 1907.


The arrival of nurse Ellen Burton to the Belgian Congo is unwelcome to hunter John "Lonni" Douglas (Robert Mitchum), who captures animals for zoos. He warns her against traveling upriver to join a female doctor who is working with native tribesmen.

Short of money, Lonni is intrigued when partner Huysman (Walter Slezak) tells him there is gold to be found in the region where Ellen will be traveling. Lonni volunteers to accompany her, along with gun bearer Jacques.

Ellen (Susan Hayward) is a widow who once discouraged her physician husband from his dream of coming to Africa to give medical aid. She talks a witch doctor out of killing a woman with an abscessed tooth. Upset with her, the witch doctor places a deadly tarantula in Ellen's tent.

The doctor she is there to assist has died of fever. The king is pleased when his son is saved from a lion by Lonni, his wounds treated by Ellen, but then the king takes her hostage when Huysman, heavily armed, arrives to search for gold. Huysman's men knock Lonni unconscious and tie him up, but Jacques sacrifices his own life to save that of Lonni, who returns to Ellen's side for good.



The original director was Roy Ward Baker but he fell ill on location in Africa and was replaced by Henry Hathaway.[3]

Henry Hathaway filmed footage in Africa, but the majority of the film was shot on Fox's studio backlot.[4] The head of 20th Century Fox Darryl F. Zanuck demanded that [Emily] Louise Allender Stinetorf's (who had been a Quaker missionary in Palestine[5]) original story be jettisoned for action and a love story.[6]


  1. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p248
  2. 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, January 13, 1954
  3. Baby Sitters' Spree Set as Subject of Picture; Stage Gets Roz Russell Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 4 Nov 1952: A7.
  4. p.206 Reid, John These Movies Won No Hollywood Awards Lulu.com, 2005
  5. "Louise Allender Stinetorf Collection, 1940-1966 - Friends Collection and Earlham College Archives".
  6. p. 208 Behlmer, Rudy Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century-Fox Grove Press, 1995
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