Hatari! (1962)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Hatari!</strong> (1962)

(In French, On Cable TV, February 2019) There are a number of very entertaining stories about the making of Hatari! and the most believable of them is that the script was practically written during shooting, given that so much of the movie depended on the unpredictable actions of wild animals. It certainly shows in the herky-jerky nature of the film, in which wild animal catchers in deep Africa alternate game-hunting sessions with quieter drama back at the camp. In a way, the haphazard plot doesn’t really matter: we’re left in an unusual environment, with a director focused on entertainment and big-name stars seemingly having fun. Considering that Hatari! is directed by then-veteran Howard Hawks and stars none other than John Wayne, it’s no surprise if it harkens to the 1940s with its square-jawed male roles and subservient female roles. Making heroes out of big-game catchers working to supply zoos with wild animals ensures that both their methods and goals are reprehensible by modern standards. Then there’s John Wayne in his usual borderline-repellent persona—it’s astonishing to see the movie present him as a romantic lead to an actress nearly thirty years his junior. As a result, I can’t say that I like Hatari! as much as most of the other movies in Hawks’ filmography—but even I have to admit that the hunting footage is nothing short of spectacular, and that the film does an intriguing job in creating a plot to go around the actions of the animals. Elsa Martinelli is captivating in the lead female role, but the best reason to watch the film is to see a well-oiled Hollywood production run against the vagaries (and dangers) of filming alongside wild animals and then figure out how to deal with that captured footage. Amusingly enough, this is the movie for which Henry Mancini’s famous “Baby Elephant Walk” was written.

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