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Savant Short Review:


Paramount Home Video
1961 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 157m.
Starring John Wayne , Elsa Martinelli, Red Buttons, Hardy Kruger
Cinematography Russell Harlan
Art Direction Carl Anderson, Hal Pereira
Film Editor Stuart Gilmore
Original Music Henry Mancini
Writing credits Leigh Brackett from a story by Harry Kurnitz
Produced and Directed by Howard Hawks

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 think 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, Pilgrim.

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 guys, and 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 bluntly 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 poster again.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Hatari rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: None
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


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