Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: HATARI (1962) starring John Wayne, Red Buttons and Elsa Martinelli

I haven't seen this film recently so my post is written from affectionate memory. And yet, I have to add that despite my deep-rooted affection, HATARI is one of those films that doesn't, necessarily, improve on excessive re-watching. But watched one or two or even three times, it's quite enjoyable. I shall explain as we go.

HATARI (1962) is a Howard Hawks production starring John Wayne, Red Buttons and Elsa Martinelli. Filmed mostly on location in Tanzania (aka The United Republic of Tanzania), Africa - which is actually the main attraction if you, like me, dreamed of going on safari (with film camera) when you were young and full of oats. ('Hatari' means 'danger' in Swahili.)

One of the film's more memorable enjoyments is the jazzy light-hearted score by Henry Mancini. I owned the album for years and think I might want to get my hands on the CD - now that the film has sprung into my mind again.

An aside: I had a friend who went to live in Africa - maybe Senegal, not sure - with her new hubby. They were there for a couple of years but came back to America, rather chastened, I think. They just could not accommodate themselves to the vast changes in lifestyle. At any rate, I'd given her a gold ring to take with her so that at least something of mine, if not my actual self, would have traveled there. Now that I think on it, I know three people who have been to Morocco, so that's three others in my sphere who have actually set foot on the Continent of Africa.

Back to the movie:

Besides the attractions of Africa and star power of John Wayne, there are a bevy of good looking men in secondary roles - more than enough to make any young heart flutter: Bruce Cabot as 'The Indian' is an older - but still good enough for a flutter or two - white hunter (though nicely tanned) whose leg goring at the horn of a rhino in the beginning of the film adds drama and is supposed to make that particular beast seem mysterious, deadly and too difficult to take back alive except if you're John Wayne. It also makes it easier to add a swaggering young Frenchman to the group, since The Indian must recuperate and can no longer join in the animal hijinks.

Wayne plays Sean Mercer, a gruff co-owner of an outfit based in Africa, whose job it is to catch animals for zoos around the world. This they do with extreme vigor and hands-on enthusiasm. The best parts in the film are those when we're on the chase - since the camera goes right along - adding the necessary gritty verisimilitude to the various treks across the African plains. Just really wonderful camera work by Russell Harlan - director of photography.

Joining Wayne in the animal round-ups, are: an adorably blond and sexy Hardy Kruger as Kurt Muller, the German in the cast, an equally adorable and even sexier Valentin de Vargas (sadly he died this year on my birthday at age 78) as Luis Francisco Garcia Lopez, the Mexican in the cast, (Luis has very little to say in the script, but his eyes and expressive face do the 'saying' for him), Gerard Blain as the less adorable but just as sexy, Charles Maurey, nicknamed 'Chips', the Frenchman in the cast, and finally the almost too adorable Red Buttons as 'Pockets' the American of the secondary group - a handy jack of all trades and inventor - a silly side plot involving rockets.

There's lots of male bonding exposition, joking, smoking, some drunkenness and manly oneupmanship that must be waded through of course - it's a Hawks film - plus testosterone usually flows when John Wayne is around. But I must tell you that a little of this sort of thing goes a very long way.

Well, as you can see, we have a veritable United Nations of actors in the cast. Part of the fun. Gives a kind of international flavor even if it stretches credulity a bit.

Along with all this heavenly pulchritude we also have French actress Michele Girardon as Brandy de la Court who has lived in Africa since she was a child and has known The Indian and Sean all her life. Sean tends to think of her as a girl still, but in truth she's a grown woman and pretty soon the younger men notice and begin to jockey for position. Her choice near the end is rather obvious from the first, but we pretend not to see it. It's meant to be cute.

Okay, so into this mix comes beautiful Elsa Martinelli as Italian wildlife photographer Anna Maria D'Allesandro, almost immediately nicknamed 'Dallas' by Sean - he had initially mistaken her letters requesting interviews and photos for a magazine spread as having come from a male journalist. (She signed the letters with her initials.) So there's exasperated fussing and fuming in the beginning as he initially wants her to leave - the African plains are no place for a woman.

"But what about Brandy?" Oh well, she grew up here. She's one of the boys. Unsaid: Plus she doesn't go in for feminine falderals as Dallas presumably might.

Needless to say, Dallas, a determined woman, stays on. Though I must add that as far as picture taking, she doesn't seem to have much professional paraphernalia and apparently only one small 35 mm camera. Not that you see her working that often. But as usual I'm nitpicking.

Everything that happens in this movie is foretold in the first half hour or so so that the only reason for watching are the thrilling (and I mean, thrilling) animal chases, the African landscape, the accompanying music and the aforementioned Hardy Kruger and Valentin de Vargas who are hardly the main stars.

My favorite line in the movie: "My name is Luis Francisco Garcia Lopez, I don't wear pajamas."
You have to watch the scene to know why this signifies. I swoon every time. Even if it's only a brief screen moment.

The truth is, John Wayne was really too old to be playing the smitten school boy, even a reluctant one. And Elsa Martinelli's character was too young to have fallen for this very irascible older guy whose attractions, I must say, are not what they once were. Though I was never one to pooh-pooh the appeal of extreme competence - the alpha male syndrome and all (I can be a sucker for that myself). But again I'm nit-picking, Wayne's the star and that's that.

Wayne and Martinelli meet 'cute'.

Don't get me wrong, I liked John Wayne in most of his screen incarnations - always playing John Wayne - but when younger, he was easier on the eyes and his 'manly' shtick hadn't worn out its welcome. But by the sixties, he was oh-so-predictable that you had to role your eyes. (Except for maybe in TRUE GRIT.)

The rest of the film is basically a will they/won't they with animal chases in between and near the end two little elephants to up the 'cute' quotient and make Dallas seem more 'motherly' and adorable just in case we were thinking she might be too sophisticated for Sean.

Okay so why am I recommending this film when I seem to be damning it with faint praise? Well, you know I'm the contrary sort. Besides what annoys me may not necessarily annoy you.

Take a look, see what you think. I know that when I was young and impressionable, I really loved this boisterous Howard Hawks tale of adventure in a kind of theme-park Africa. Despite my older self looking back with a certain amount of cynicism, I probably wouldn't mind seeing it again one of these days. It's not a bad film at all to watch with younger kids either. Despite my grumpiness, there are some really delightful scenes and the whole thing does kind of make you wish you were there.

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog today to see what other forgotten (or overlooked) films and/or audio visuals, other bloggers are talking about today.


  1. Yvette,

    Great review! I just watched it again several months ago, and I concur heartily with your comments. Big John was a bit old for Elsa, etc. The other goings-on were predictable. The highlights were the chase scenes (well,it is Howard Hawks)

    1. Thanks, Fred. This is one of those films that you want to love forever. But...Still, as I said, I wouldn't mind watching it again at some point. Maybe if I find it in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart. :)

  2. I have to say that it wasn't until very recently that I could watch John Wayne films. What I perceived as wooden acting, I can now see as a style. Makes a difference.

    1. Oh, some of his earlier films were wonderful, Patti. In my view, anyway. STAGECOACH - the first one especially. I hope you have a chance to see it. Also ANGEL AND THE BADMAN with poor Gail Russell and there were, really, a couple of others. HATARI is a lot of fun - a film not to be taken seriously but there's just something about it that lingers in that part of us which is still a kid.

  3. Yvette, nice review and presentation. I saw this film years ago though I remember it only in parts. I have mixed views about John Wayne: I didn't like his films as he grew older. I liked RIO BRAVO and Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson more than Wayne.

  4. Thanks, Prashant. You know I don't remember ever seeing RIO BRAVO but I must have at some point. I wasn't crazy about Dean Martin so I might not have seen it first time around. My memory is a jumble. :)

  5. This a fun and very, very relaxed movie - but as you say, made with great elan by a bunch of seasoned professionals - and then there's that great Henry Mancini score! It is very easy on the eye and ear (and brain) and very relaxing - great choice Yvette

    1. That's the word, Sergio! Relaxed. Yes. Thanks!

  6. When my niece was about three this was one of her favorite films. She loved all of the animals.

    1. I'm wondering if my granddaughter might like it too, Sandy. Maybe we'll watch it when she's a little older - in the spring or summer of next year.

  7. I watch this for Hardy Kruger. Period. Wunderschön!


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