Hatari! (1962)
May 28, 2019 2:21 PM - Subscribe

Hatari! is the story of a group of adventurers in East Africa, engaged in the exciting and lucrative but dangerous business of catching wild animals for delivery to zoos around the world. As "Momella Game Ltd.", they operate from a compound near the town of Arusha. The head of the group is Sean Mercer (John Wayne); the others are safari veteran Little Wolf, also known as "the Indian" (Bruce Cabot); drivers "Pockets" (Red Buttons), a former Brooklyn taxi driver, and Kurt (Hardy Krüger), a German auto racing driver; roper Luis (Valentin de Vargas), a former Mexican bullfighter, and Brandy (Michele Girardon), a young woman whose late father was a member of the group; she grew up there and owns the business.

Peter Labuza: Quentin Tarantino always calls Rio Bravo a "hang out" movie, but there's way more hanging out in this film and barely a narrative motivation to hold onto (yes they have to complete the safari, but everyone seems pretty relaxed about this). In doing so, some scenes are kind of padding for the 2.5+ hour running time (a gag with ostriches, a not particularly offensive but still in bad taste tribal sequence with Dallas). Even if it does feel like a collection of tangential scenes (like Pockets's rocket-monkey catcher), I'm pretty okay with this. The man's professional world is the great equalizer, so it doesn't matter if your Irish, Mexican, Italian, Germany, French, or American—all that matters is how good you are at your job. Of course, if you're a woman, you better know your place amongst these boys who barely understand romance at all or what a woman wants ("How you like to kiss?" Oh my oh my). Wayne and Dallas are natural companions once he takes on father to the other men and she takes on mother to both Buttons and the elephants.

Film basically also works as a greatest hits collection of scenes from a number of other Hawks movies: gun duel in Red River, piano scene in Only Angels Have Wings, cheetah from Bringing Up Baby, interrupted kiss from Rio Bravo. The comedy is my kind of dumb, and there are some obvious gags, but I can't help but laugh at Buttons feigning an injury to get close to Brandy or the elephants coming in during the final scene. The hunting scenes—which were apparently all shot before Leigh Brackett wrote the script—are genuinely exciting and quite visceral (there are some shots where Hawks gets the camera nice and low to the ground while next to the speeding car that feel like the Death Star run in Star Wars). And speaking of Lucas, I know this song has been around for years, but can't help but think Spielberg knowingly took "Show Me The Way To Go Home" in Jaws from the binge drinking scene here. In many ways, feels like the most Hawksian of his movies for me, at least within the scenes.

HDNET Movies:The film’s narrative can be found lacking by even the most casual of critical viewers, due in large part to a loosely scripted production. Originally developed under Jack Warner with Gary Cooper starring, the film’s script had yet to be written when Hawks announced Cooper would be starring in his upcoming “Africa” feature. Shortly thereafter the film fell apart when Cooper, who had signed on to the project conditionally with script approval, opted to drop out. Jack Warner subsequently dropped out as well, which resulted in the production going to Paramount and the inclusion of star, John Wayne. The lack of a script, however, was intentional on Hawks part. The open-ended nature of the story allowed for the film to be built around the heart-thumping animal capture scenes that occupy the film, but adrenaline inducing scenes and settings were no strangers to Hawks’ style.

A.H. Weiler: Mr. Hawks and his photographers, Russell Harlan and Joseph Brun, also have come up with sweeping vistas of tawny Tanganyika plains surrounded by cloud-covered mountains that are breathtaking, and their shots of a tree full of chattering monkeys, racing zebras, ostriches, elands and gnus, as well as the three baby elephants who playfully charge through the streets of Arusha, give the wildlife its due. Humane societies will be pleased to know that not a single shot is fired in anger. The boys are in it for the money, and the captive animals are treated as cherished assets.

posted by Carillon (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This was one of my favorite movies growing up. I loved a lot of things about it, but the visuals of capturing the animals is so well done and striking. It's funny, it's only as I was putting together this post that I realized the plot is pretty thin in a lot of places. It's because when I think of Hatari! I don't think about what happens next, but rather the feeling of being there and the characters themselves.
posted by Carillon at 2:57 PM on May 28, 2019

Is it just coincidence that Hatari sounds like Daktari?
posted by Chrysostom at 2:58 PM on May 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Did this cover box shout out from the walls to anybody else over multiple video rental stores back in the day? It seems to have just always been around.
posted by rhizome at 10:45 PM on May 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'll have to watch this again. About the only thing I remember is John Wayne sitting on the hood of a jeep while they were chasing an animal which seems really dangerous, even if it was really a stunt man.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:16 AM on May 29, 2019

Hatari means danger or warning in Swahili (Daktari means doctor), so probably.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:50 AM on May 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

My understanding was that a lot of the time it was John Wayne and not a stuntman.
posted by Carillon at 11:58 AM on May 29, 2019

Now I'm not even sure that I've seen Hatari!, because I know that I saw Daktari and I may be confusing the two.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:10 AM on May 30, 2019

Well, around the same time there was a tv pilot called Africa: Texas Style (1967) starring Hugh O'Brien which current reviewers describe as pretty bad but it was nonetheless completely recast and turned into a one-season tv series called Cowboy in Africa and starring Chuck Conners (mostly filmed in the US though, at the same location as Daktari). Texas cowboy moves to Africa to manage a ranch and tries to domesticate wild animals in order to save them. And Daktari was preceded by Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion (1965).

It seems like the 60s went through an East Africa phase even if most of the filming was done in the US, or Mexico in the case of Tarzan (1966-1968). I can't think of any recent programming set there.

And that's my deep dive into IMDb for the day.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:28 AM on May 30, 2019

Yep, I do love some John Wayne from time to time. And Red Buttons is a hoot. And that seventh person in the main script is Elsa Martinelli as Anna Maria D'Alessandro ("Just call me Dallas"), a photojournalist sent by the Basel Zoo to record the capture of the animals the zoo has ordered. Assorted hijinks occur.
Poor Pockets and the monkey capture! That's worth the price of admission.
posted by TrishaU at 8:22 AM on June 4, 2019

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