''It was a good film in its time, which movie buffs might enjoy with nostalgia, but The African Queen doesn't reach out to anyone today,'' said author Peter Viertel, 71, in a phone interview from his home in Marbella, Spain. ''White Hunter, Black Heart does have a bearing on our present day, because the film is about the sin of killing animals.''
Big-game hunting is so sensitive a subject, adds Viertel, that Clint Eastwood decided to change a key scene in the novel and have the Huston character refrain from shooting an elephant in the film. ''Despite the fact that he's been blazing away at criminals and noncriminals on camera for years, Clint is a very kindhearted and sensitive man. I don't think he would kill a mosquito that lit on his neck.'' Incidentally, John Huston never shot an elephant either, though he never hesitated to pull the trigger; he just missed.