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A veteran white trader in the darkest Africa of the 1870s mentors a younger companion on the mysteries of the Dark Continent. After meeting a missionary, they go in search of Nina, her kidnapped daughter, who was abducted by natives when she was young and now reigns over the savage tribe, regarded by them as a goddess. When the two men are captured and slated for horrible death by her people, she rescues them, and the trio flees the pursuing tribesmen through savage country. Written by
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is indebted to the governmental officials of The Territory of Tanganyika, The Protectorate of Uganda, The Colony of Kenya, The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, The Belgian Congo, whose co-operation made this picture possible - and to White Hunters Maj. W.V.D. Dickinson, A.S. Waller, Esq., J.H. Barnes, Esq., H.R. Stanton, Esq., for their courageous services through 14,000 miles of African veldt and jungle. See more »
Try to put yourself in the place of a 1931 viewer...
...and you can see why this film caught the attention of the Academy at the time. For the same reasons that viewing live musical performances from 1970's TV don't excite in the age of the Ipod, anyone who views this from the perspective of someone who has 24/7 access to Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel won't get what the big deal is of seeing Africa's wildlife on film. From today's standards, the wildlife isn't even that clearly photographed. In 1931, though, most people had never seen such sights.
When I first saw the year this film was made and that it was a startling 123 minutes long for a film made in the early 30's, I somewhat suspected I was going to be subject to some preposterous maudlin melodrama in the MGM tradition that went on forever, but it is packed with action and has a very good story. The story involves seasoned African adventurer Aloysius "Trader" Horn (Harry Carey) taking Peru (Duncan Renaldo), 23 year-old son of an old friend, on his first big adventure into Africa. Along the way they run into a missionary, also a friend of Horn. She has been preaching among the natives and seeking the daughter that was stolen from her by the natives for twenty years. Soon thereafter, Horn and Peru are captured by a group of natives led by a young white woman - presumed to be the daughter of the missionary woman. Horn, Peru, and their native gun bearer are slated for a horrible execution by the natives unless the young white girl intercedes on their behalf. If she does will the other natives even listen? And if they do listen, how will our protagonists get back to the closest trading post without their guns, which have been confiscated by their captors? Some of the language tossed around, such as Trader Horn calling the African villagers "monkeys" will likely cause you to cringe, but - again - you must remember this dialog is a product of its time. The film did show a surprising and touching camaraderie between Horn and his native gun bearer, Rencharo.
Also note the precode element in this film. Native women are plainly shot unclothed from the waist up, which is probably very much based in reality. If this film had been made five years later that would not have happened. Of course, even in the precode era, this might be OK for the native "savages" but not for the grown white girl raised by them. She has a kind of make-shift fur top on that still shows a great deal, but not everything.
The film elements on this one are somewhat shaggy, the contrast is poor, and it cries out for restoration. In spite of all of this, I still recommend it to fans of this era of film-making as a unique cinematic experience.
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