September 11, 2020
Hatari! (1962)
Grade: 70/100

Director: Howard Hawks
Stars: John Wayne, Red Buttons, Elsa Martinelli

What it's about. How others will see it. John Wayne is an exotic game hunter in Africa. He captures a laundry list of wild animals for zoos. He has help: a driver (Red Buttons), a rifleman (Hardy Kruger), a roper (Valentin de Vargas), and a beautiful young woman for company (Michele Girardon). Old hand Bruce Cabot is injued by a rhino, which leaves a job opening for James Dean-type Gerard Blain.

Because it is a movie, a beautiful young woman (Elsa Martinelli) with a sexy foreign accent shows up as a photographer. That makes two beautiful women, and of course both have romances. Martinelli is after big game, John Wayne himself, while Girardon has her pick between Blain, Kruger, and Buttons. Buttons is the comic relief, since Walter Brennan was apparently too busy cranking out episodes of "The Real McCoys".

Hatari is swahili for danger. Somehow, Hawks was able to get the actors to perform most stunts themselves, including roping and handling the wild animals.

A frequent comment made about Hatari! is that it could not be made today. By that, it is meant that the movie exhibits and condones animal cruelty. Animals are chased by truck until they are exhausted, then tied down with ropes and captured, to become lifetime prisoners in zoos. We live in an era when the Barnum & Bailey Circus was forced to fold.

An other obvious problem Hatari! has, by today's political correctness, is its white supremacy. While the whites are from various countries (America, France, Germany, Spain, Italy) they enjoy far more privilege than do Africans in their own land. Whites give the orders, and enjoy front or back seats. Blacks do as they are told, and stand in the truck bed. They also have the difficult and dangerous job of wrestling with the panic-striken wild animals, and forcing them into cages.

But not all whites are equal. While the Americans, German, and Frechman make plays for the two hottie young women, the Spaniard is left out of most subplots, including romances.

Finally, the movie has the two hotties pairing up with Wayne and Buttons, both much older men, while the three younger men are out of luck.

But 1962 audiences cared little about such things. Hatari! was one of the biggest-grossing films of the year. Director Howard Hawks, by now 65 years old, had pulled it off again. Critics, though, must have considered the film slight, as it was ignored by the Golden Globes and received only a single Oscar nomination, for its color cinematography.

Today's audiences also must not care much, as a whole, that Hatari! implies whites are bosses, and animals can be terrorized for profit. At, the movie has a respectable 11,500 user votes. The user rating is also fairly high, at 7.2 out of 10. Women grade it slightly higher, 7.4. The draw, of course, is manly man icon John Wayne, for decades one of the most successful actors in Hollywood.

The user reviews indicate a backlash against political correctness. One writer states: "This is how animals get into the zoos. They don't just walk in there and say 'Sign me up!'" Hatari! has a lot of feel-good humor throughout, and this wins over audiences.

There are complainers, of course. They note the animal cruelty, the long running time, and the slow pace of the plot.

How I felt about it. John Wayne is the star, and once again plays John Wayne. His scoffing attitude is as ingratiating as always. His romance is an eye-roller (Elsa Martinelli is half his age, and shamelessly throws herself at him). It is also uncomfortable that the cast goes to such lengths to prevent her from leaving Tanzania, to the point of trying to get her arrested on a false charge of grand larceny.

The film effectively replicates another Hawks-Wayne collaboration, Rio Bravo. He-man Wayne is supported by veteran character actors and a hot-shot young man. Wayne fences with a beautiful, confident woman. He has a dangerous job. The plot is basic, the pace dawdles so that we can enjoy the dialogue.

Hawks had a reputation for throwing scripts away if they did not suit him. He would also change the plots. As such, he transformed his movies, instead of merely executing them with the scripts he was given, which is what most directors did. That made Hawks one of the best directors in Hollywood.

The question I have is, who came up with the dialogue? It is all credited to Leigh Brackett, but one suspects that Hawks and the actors came up with at least some of the lines themselves.