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Josef von Sternberg
Anna May Wong
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 »
The comments of Ron Oliver and marcslope are interesting and informative and yet what occurs to me is that this antique with all its racist assumptions about the violence and mystery of 'the dark continent' is a relic of late 19th-century Boys' Adventure fiction. These stories by H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs (as well as dozens of others now forgotten) seem to have had a surprising and lasting life in early talking pictures: TARZAN, THE GREEN GODDESS, SHE and countless serials all featured these mythic adventurers, forgotten white gods and goddesses and black 'savages,' both noble and blood-thirsty. Seeing TRADER HORN reveals that it was among the first and most influential of these movies, so it's unfortunate that it is so little known today.
That's no doubt due to its casual racism as well as the pre-code nudity on the part of the African women filmed on location. But TRADER HORN's naiveté and breath-taking political incorrectness make it a rather fascinating primitive. There are other marks against it: an overlong running time, too-leisurely pacing, wild-life photography that is often dull or (in the case of the slaughter of a rhino and a lion) sickening.
But on the plus side: Harry Carey's direct, natural and gruff performance has been noted by others. I was far more interested in Duncan Renaldo and Edwina Booth. Renaldo was so personable and extraordinarily handsome -- he looked like a prettier Don Ameche and from certain angles seems a dead ringer for a black-haired Brad Pitt -- that I was astonished to have never heard of him. He was certainly no great actor, and yet he had a definite physical presence and was highly photogenic. His Hispanic accent must have been the primary impediment to a career in 'A' pictures. The (in some ways) legendary Edwina Booth turns out to have had a strong facial resemblance to Marlene Dietrich, and like Dietrich she's not a very expressive actress. And yet she throws herself wholeheartedly into her portrait of a wild, willful and childish White Goddess, spitting out all of her dialog in unintelligible movie African. It's camp for sure, but also a gutsy performance.
And the scene in which Carey and Renaldo first meet Booth is memorable: after appearing in their hut wearing only a monkey fur bikini (and showing the kind of long, lean, cut body that contemporary taste demands) she proceeds to have a shrieking tantrum while flogging every African in sight. When confronted by the gorgeous Renaldo, she proceeds to whip him as well (in a scene that obviously inspired a similar one in Clara Bow's CALL HER SAVAGE a year later) while he simply smolders and hardens and she becomes aroused. It is a provocative scene of real sexual tension and something of a revelation.
A bigger one is the fact that in plot and iconography TRADER HORN was an obvious influence on the far more famous and evocative KING KONG. Having grown up with Kong and Fay Wray I was shocked to be watching TRADER HORN for the first time only to note that Carey begot Robert Armstrong as Booth begot Fay Wray and Renaldo begot Bruce Cabot. Such are the random ways that imitation can sometimes unintentionally inspire great folk art.
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