Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Another good response letter from 'woggly.'
Hatari! is a Howard Hawks movie, a species that has been gone for a long time but still divides film
fans. Not film critics, mind you. They can't get enough of a director who is so maddeningly
consistent, he fits every cinematic thesis.
Hawks made a variety of films with more than one theme, but his prevailing situation was the
Male Group exploring the concept of professionalism while undertaking some very masculine pursuit:
car racing, cattle drives, flying mail across the Andes ... that sort of thing, There are no
Hawks films about mortgage brokers.
There's usually a
strong leader with a variety of likeable types around him. Some are laconic and singleminded, although
there's always a clown to be had, a Thomas Mitchell or Walter Brennan. But all hew strictly to
a code of professionalism which accepts death as a given, eschews weepy emotional displays, and plays
tough with those who break the rules. A dopey cowhand who sneaks sugar out of the chuckwagon in
Red River causes a stampede, and pays for it with banishment. John Garfield's lack of Esprit de
Corps in Air Force is treated like some kind of disease. Sometimes the redemption of the uncool is the
subject of the movie, as when Dean Martin in Rio Bravo gets treated like dirt until he sobers
up and starts earning back his proper respect. Likewise, a flyer (Richard Barthelmess) deemed to have screwed the pooch
bigtime in the past , gets his chance to make amends and is allowed to rejoin
the club in Only Angels Have Wings.
What's this guff about consistency? Even Hawks' oddball titles were long ago linked to his main themes
by ace critics like Robin Wood. Monkey Business, where Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers regress into
immature caricatures of themselves, is likened unto Scarface, which is about a gangster who seems to
have devolved into an ape-like life form. The Thing is really a Rio Bravo-like male
group bash, where short work is made of a monster from space as if it were any other pro challenge. You might
Land of the Pharaohs is about a pyramid, but it's actually another
Red River-The Big Sky-Moby Dick tale dealing with an epic feat. Cheops don't abide quitters,
Later on in his career, Hawks' films became rather overlong, and somewhat repetitive. Hatari!
is one of the first of these 'older' pictures. It's more about just hanging out with these great
less about plot or excitement. It's as if Hawks' own motivation for making it was to get a great
group of guys out in Africa and have a jolly good time. This is a guy
who'd split for the weekend with John Huston riding shotgun and William Faulkner in the back seat
with the liquor.
Big game hunter Sean Mercer (John Wayne) runs a Mogambo-like animal collection camp
somewhere on the veldt in Africa, where he captures fantastic fauna for zoos worldwide. Assisting
him is ex-racecar driver Kurt Mueller (Hardy Kruger), The Indian (Bruce Cabot), Luis Lopez (Valentin
de Vargas, from The Magnificent Seven and ubiquitous in anything else shot in Mexico
around this time) and loveable clown Pockets (Red Buttons). Together they form sort of a loose
family unit who drink, make jokes, get drunk and get their requisite dose of Hatari (that's Danger
in Swahili, you illiterates) by chasing animals while hanging onto speeding pickup trucks that
never seem to hit unexpected gulleys out in the savage grasslands. When The Indian is temporarily
laid up from being gored by a rhino, Chips Chalmoy (Gerard Blain) joins up to fill the gap. And the
camp is sexed up with the arrival of photographer Anna Maria D'Allesandro (Elsa Martinelli), who is soon
going by the name of Dallas.
That literally is it for main plot points, and they all happen in the first half hour of this 2 & 2/3
hour show, which is filled with gorgeous photography, fun animals, pleasant Henry Mancini music, and
the antics of John Wayne's happy bunch.
Savant doesn't believe in guilty pleasures. Who needs to feel guilty about liking what they like?
Hatari! gets a little slow now and then, and Red Button's third-rate comic antics (gimme another
Oscar nomination!) leave me cold, but in general the Hawks male-universe, relax-and-have-a-good-time
atmosphere works for me. Wayne is likeable in the extreme in this go-about, the animal-grabbing
scenes (lauded at the time as a righteous evolutionary step up from movies about hunting big game
with guns) are pretty exciting, and Hawks aquits himself as professionally as ever, breaking from
medium shots at shoulder level only very rarely, and lulling you into a sense of flow and continuity
that in the best of situations, can make you forget you're watching a movie at all.
Politically it's still a movie of its time. Activists today dissaprove of disturbing in any way what remains of
real indigenous wildlife. Everyone at Sean Mercer's camp looks like an Anglo on permanent
vacation, while there are plenty of silent blacks around who seem to be doing their share of the
real work while not qualifying for the inner circle of coolness around Mercer's ice chest full of
beer. Modern films have neatly sidestepped political issues like these by existing in reality-free
limbos ... like Mighty Joe Young.
Nowadays, Hawks is an acquired taste, and those who love him will defend him by talking about his other
pictures and how they interrelate, much as I have just done above. Others will react as did the genius
student in Jim Kitses' 1973 UCLA class on Westerns, who stood up in the middle of a lecture and asked
how anyone could confuse Rio Bravo, El Dorado, or Rio Lobo with a good movie, by
any standard. Even Kitses couldn't make a defense for a filmmaker whose entire worth is dependent on
buying into his personal universe. Savant has never quite sat through Lobo, although he
laughed along with 1,000 other kiddies when he saw Rio Bravo at age seven and laughed
too when our heroes blew up the bad guys with sticks of dynamite (sooo funny). Savant got all
huffy at El Dorado in reissue ten years later; James Caan's sawed-off shotgun with
its 'funny' BOOMY blast seemed an obscene lie next to the murderously lethal trench guns in
The Wild Bunch.
Since Hatari! isn't about killing people, it has an advantage as a crossover date movie. My sister
wanted to work in the zoo after seeing and hearing the 'Baby Elephant Walk.' Then she found out
what real pachyderms smelled like!
Paramount Home Video's handsome DVD of Hatari! looks great, but isn't quite up to the standard of their
previous drop-dead beautiful
Donovan's Reef disc. Its a bit, just a
bit grainier throughout, as if encoding all of this long picture just took up too much data space
for a sufficient bit rate. This is only evident on a larger projection television, however ..
the color and sharpness of the picture are excellent, and Savant noticed no real flaws.
Henry Mancini's score, one of his better, remains in mono. This reminds me of the old LP record album,
which used that great (Reynold Brown?) original poster art, with its highballing truck and
rhino charging the viewer in forced perspective. Although the big picture of Wayne on the keepcase
will doubtless target the John Wayne fans who know this movie, Savant misses not seeing that cool
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: July 30, 2001
Footnotes: another good response from 'woggly'
Dear Glenn: As a filmmaker and craftsman, Howard Hawks was
greatly talented. As a storyteller of
a certain kind of tale he was a master. But as you lightly allude to in
your deceptively casual essay, the kind
of stories he chose to tell dealt mostly with the celebration of clubs
and elite groups of 'exclusive' membership.
I have never gotten over Hawks' famous comments regarding HIGH NOON. Few
public statements have ever
announced so loudly and discordantly that the speaker definitely lived
in a different -- and, perhaps a better
-- world than most of the rest of us. The problem is, we can't pack up
and live in Hawks' "parallel universe;"
we have to muddle along in our own way.
In other words, I can't think of anything in a Hawks picture that
resembles life as I've experienced it. They
are imagined, fabricated and stylized in every way.
"Hey, B -- so are ALL MOVIES!"
Thank you. I was getting to that. I find the Hawks pictures that pretend
to illustrate or depict a "real" world almost unwatchable, because they
simply omit too many details and consequences of human behavior. I
can't take them seriously, even as entertainment. RED RIVER is the most
heartbreaking example of this, as
the director tackled a great idea, a strong story, and a classic
conflict, and mounted a gigantic physical production with two well cast,
gifted actors and many great scenes; it's Hawks who can't or won't go
the distance. Over thirty years have passed since I first saw this film;
a knot still forms in my stomach when I
think of the frustratingly unbelievable "let's forget about it" ending. We have read several accounts of how and why this ending evolved, but
none of them make it right...
This movie was about something, but
Hawks couldn't be bothered to work it through.
At the end of a series of
"blooper" scenes that, er, graced
the closing credits of one of Burt Reynolds' risible smashes of the late
'70s-early '80s, Reynolds is seen to
blow a line; he turns to the camera with his brittle, corrupt
"good-old-boy" smirk and says with a chuckle,
"Aw, go ahead, print it! It's all shit, anyway." That terrible movie's
contempt for its audience doesn't even
approach Hawks' abrupt and unforgivable betrayal of RED RIVER.
That having been said, I will almost always sit down and watch EL DORADO
in its entirety when AMC and
TCM run it. It's a fable; a children's story about the West. It is
slowly paced but rewarding. Wayne and
Mitchum are terrific even when they have nothing to do, and Caan's
sheepish acceptance that he's the
film's clown has improved with the film's age. [Your comment about the
BUNCH is well taken, of course.]
The film now looks better than it ever has, I think -- the old prints
made it look like a GUNSMOKE two-parter,
it looks like a feature film again.
And, HATARI! As I grow older, I try to think of times when my family was
all together and did things
happily as a group -- a tall order. Well, we did go to the drive-in from
time to time, most memorably%
to see HATARI! This was ideal d-i fare in that it was long, colorful,
and as the attached graphic proclaims,
had something for everyone. The HATARI! soundtrack was an influential
part of our family's lp collection
-- I hope HH gave Mancini a lot of credit for the success of the movie,
as his rousing "African" themes
really propel the movie and enliven the inevitable long scenes in which
nobody has anything to do.
Sounds like a nice disc, even without Mancini stereo tracks -- last I
heard, these exist! -- but the cover
is all wrong. I don't know if Raynold painted the original or not, but
it's still a great piece of key art. Best, Always.-- B
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
Go BACK to the Savant Main Page.
Return to Top of Page