July Issue 2013

By | Here and Now | Published 11 years ago

John Wayne may have left the Wild West for Howard Hawk’s 1962 masterpiece Hatari! but he had certainly not left the wild behind. Hatari! which means ‘Danger!’ in Swahili, was set in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) with the support of the local government for tourism and advocacy purposes and thus has plenty of scenes of local culture, historical and natural sites. Shot at a time when there was little to none of the technology and special effects common today, the film managed to include some of the most stunning cinematography of nature and wildlife, as well as epic scenes of animal hunts in the African savannah. And this, rather than the plot (there isn’t really one), is the film’s real strength.

Hatari! follows a group of expatriate American and European professional animal catchers who sell the captured animals to zoos abroad. The team is led by Sam Mercer (Wayne) and includes Kurt (Hardy Krüger), the seemingly dimwitted Pockets (Red Buttons), Luis Francisco Garcia Lopez (Valentin de Vargas), Little Wolf aka The Indian (Bruce Cabot) and Brandy (Michèle Girardon), the only woman in the group. They are later joined by a Frenchman, Charles Maurey (Gérard Blain), whose name Mercer can’t pronounce and decides to name ‘Chips’ instead (“Do you always carry that chip on your shoulder?”) and Anna Maria ‘Dallas’ D’Alessandro (Elsa Martinelli), a professional photographer assigned to taking photographs of the animals for a zoo in Switzerland. Although she is underestimated by Mercer at first as being too pampered and “amateur” for hunting and Africa, he later comes to see her worth and a romance develops between the two.

In a memorable opening scene, the group chases after, and loses, a feisty female rhinoceros with the striking Mount Meru in the backdrop. The group think they have a jinx and capturing the dangerous rhino will put an end to their bad luck.

By today’s standards, the film isn’t quite politically correct, with subtle innuendos on race and not-so-subtle ones on gender. For example, when trying to capture the rhino, Pockets jokes that “she must be a female; she doesn’t know which way she wants to go!” There is also one part in the film in which the Italian actress is decorated by the local Masai tribe by blackening her face, and spends the rest of the day scrubbing the ‘colour’ off. But, despite all this, Hatari! is intended to be a light comedy and should be viewed as such.

The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.