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|Index||24 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Trader Horn seems to have set a precedent for later African adventure
movies. It introduces the African adventurer (not a hunter or explorer
in this movie, but a trader). There are very typical scenes: alligators
and hippos in the rivers and lakes; herds of wildlife stampeding;
beautiful distant vistas; teeming jungle and swamps; loud waterfalls;
variety of African tribes; tribal drums, dances, daily life, and
weapons; natives torturing and killing other natives; a paddle-wheel
riverboat; native "chief gun bearer" and porters; predator/prey kills;
and the shooting of animals to protect the adventurers. It includes a
reverse-Tarzan storyline, with a female white person abducted as a
child by natives, who later becomes a sort of tribal queen, but is
"rescued" by the adventurers and returned to civilization. Graphic
scenes include shooting and killing two rhinos and watching lions and
leopards killing prey. A considerable amount of the film is devoted to
scenes of wildlife, with descriptions of the common names of the
animals and something of interest about each type, which is much like a
documentary. Most other African adventure movies seem to have borrowed
ideas and scenes from this movie.
Something that interests me about this film is that the primary supporting role is played by Duncan Renaldo, when he was a very young actor. About 25 years later, he became a very popular western hero on television, starring in the half-hour weekly show The Cisco Kid.
As sheer entertainment, the movie more than succeeds. Sure, the
storyline seems familiar intrepid white men leading safari to rescue
white girl amid wilds of untamed Africa. But check out all the great
vistas and teeming wildlife, even if the beasts-in-combat was filmed
later in Mexico-- evidently the Africa end of the production was as
much an ordeal as the storyline itself (IMDB).
Carey is convincing as the chief trader. He's got a way of tossing off dialog as though he's just thought of it, and his Trader Horn remains a commanding figure throughout. Booth is almost scary as the tribal white girl, twisting her angular features into grotesque shapes that few Hollywood glamour girls would dare risk. However, the make-up man feminizes Renaldo with enough eyeliner to embarrass Estee Lauder. I realize he needs to be attractive enough to turn the white goddess around, but in the process he's been made pretty rather than safari handsome.
One thing to note is the centrality of sound to the drama. The roar of that spectacular waterfall impresses, as do the native drums and tribal hubbub. Perhaps the sound track is heightened because of the newness of the technology (1927), but it does add a lot.
As a Third World document, however, the movie's very much a creature of its timethe casual slurs, the butt-kicking, the girl's sudden preference for the white world. Such racial assumptions shouldn't be surprising given the time period; at the same time, the rich spectacle remains, including that inspired final shot. All in all and despite the drawbacks, this influential antique remains worth catching up with.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
W. S. ("One-Take Woody") Van Dyke assembled one of those movies about
two intrepid white men (Carey and Renaldo) trekking through the bush in
search of a lost missionary's daughter. Whether or not they find her,
and under what circumstances, I leave to the viewer's guess. Carey is
the savvy white explorer and Renaldo is the handsome young novice, whom
Carey calls "Laddie." It's not as racist as one might expect from a
1931 movie, and much of the spectacular footage was shot in Kenya and
the Congo. The movie takes a reasonably sensible attitude towards "the
beasts" they encounter too, though they chuckled as they shoot and kill
crocodiles on the banks of the river. "You just wounded him," chides
As far as I could tell, they got the names of the beasts right -- gnus vs wildebeests; the black panther being a melanistic leopard -- and the tribal names too -- Masai and Kikuyu. (Remember the Mau Mau? They were mostly Kikuyu.) It had been nine years since "Nanook of the North" made a splash, and this splash is bigger and has stars with names, and they don't look like Nanook and his pals. But it's all old hat by now.
The film must have gone over big with audiences in 1931. They got not only rhinoceroses but Duncan Renaldo is a pith helmet the size of a rain barrel and the configuration of a flying saucer.
I note a number of misconceptions about this great old flick, or maybe some viewers are missing a few things. Sure, Harry Carey refers to some of the tribes-people herein as savages. But, look, on a daily basis they will kill you, cook you, shrink your head, and eat what's left. If that isn't savage, I'd like to know what is. The tribes-people pictured here aren't the Dead End Kids waiting for a weekly visit from their case worker. Yes, Carey refers to his man Friday as a black so-and-so, but the so-and-so comes off looking highly noble in the script, and Carey pays him due tribute. As for Carey playing the part of a hardened Congo guide, he does a mighty fine job of rendering a realistic character, just as would John Wayne, Charleton Heston, or Clint Eastwood. In the War on Poverty days I could see some misguided soul casting Anthony Perkins in the role, but it seems to me Mr. Carey does a superb job. Another reviewer remarked Carey falls in love with the rescued captive; I disagree. Carey had pledged to protect her and return her to civilization. One person from whom he tries to protect her is the naive, erotically smitten Duncan Renaldo ("Peru"), whose character is the opposite of Trader Horn's. Trader Horn knows what's out there and what to watch for; Peru is a total newbie whose missteps could get everyone killed and cooked, including himself. I think this film's characters, story, and production handily outdo any jungle flick made since then. Kinda scary, too. So scary, in fact, and so real, I wouldn't recommend it for the kiddies. Revisionist historians stay clear; in 1931, this is really what Darkest Africa was like.
'Trader Horn' is screen history. It influenced the evolution of the
adventure epic immensely and was a direct inspiration for director W.S.
Van Dyke's own effort from the year after, the first Tarzan movie with
Johnny Weissmuller. 'Tarzan the Ape Man' is not among the best of the
Weissmuller Tarzans, nor can I say of 'Trader Horn' that in itself it
is a great movie by any standards.
Trader Horn is an experienced trader on the African savannas, and takes his young sidekick Peru on an extended journey to show him the wildlife and the fauna of his home in the wild. After being caught by a hostile tribe they escape with a white young girl who was abducted when she was a baby, and both Trader Horn and Peru fall in love with her.
Yes, it is very simplistic, no more than a pitch for a cartoon really. Trader's education of his young protegé is much too didactic to bring any kind of life into any work of fiction, but we do get to see a lot of exotic animals, which in 1931 would have been more than enough point. The film overall is brought down by Harry Carey's strangely unsympathetic portrayal of Trader. It is not so much his racism, that was a given in Western movies at the time, no escaping it, but Carey's Trader is sullen and mean-spirited and condescending to each and everybody, you tire of him quickly. And I got very severely fed up with his way of always addressing Peru as 'lad' or 'boy' in this fake Irish accent. Peru, played by dazzling young Spanish actor Duncan Renaldo, is nothing if not sweet, transcending matiné-idol cuteness, and you forgive him his delighted outburst, "They are not savages, they are just happy, ignorant children!" So watch it and appreciate its historical impact. Just don't expect a serious contender to any of the later and infinitely better adventure yarns.
young Renaldo some of the integration of clips is poor--wrong
size/perspective bare breasts, animal violence--pre-code staged actual
animal fights in Mexico! animal cruelty you black ape... monkeys Naked
"Trader Horn" is a very good film, but it's also a monstrous film--a very strange combination. I noticed that I my wife and I watched it, she was terrified and even angered several times--mostly because the filmmakers were so darned irresponsible in the way they treated the animals (and even cast members!).
The film begins with Horn (Harry Carey) and Peru (Duncan Renaldo) trekking through Africa with their porters and Horn's assistant, Rencharo (Mutia Omoolu). They are looking to trade salt and trinkets to the locals for ivory and furs. But, instead of taking advantage of the naiveté of these tribesmen, the tables end up getting turned on them. Despite Horn's experience on the Continent, he's finally out of his league--among incredibly hostile natives who seem bent on killing them all. In an odd twist, they meet up with a savage white woman living among these locals and they take 'Nina' with them on a cross-country run from these hostile warriors. This portion of the film is highly reminiscent of the later film "The Naked Prey" (with Cornel Wilde).
While the film is exciting and has a lot of great action location sequences, the film also is very tough to watch. Because the film was made in the Pre-Code era (where rules about film content were rarely enforced), the film is amazingly violent. In fact, MGM didn't like the final product, so they took a bunch of animals (probably from circuses or zoos) to Mexico and had them kill each other or killed them outright and stuck this into the movie!! There was no PETA or American Humane Association to oversee the project and it is tough watching animals actually die. In particular, there is a scene where a lion is impaled on a spear and it appears that they really did this for the entertainment of the audiences! Uggh. Additionally, being a Pre-Code piece, Nina spends much of the movie wearing very little--and all the native women are topless--which was not a problem in 1931. However, with the toughened Production Code of 1934, this film would have been heavily edited to be shown in the States or not at all. Because of all this, it's a film you definitely cannot ignore!! Exciting location shots, lots of action and a bit of trash--all make for a very exciting but unsavory film.
In the opening credits it states "dedicated to the White hunters" and
they all have Esq. after their names. Fair enough. But, no mention of
the natives at all. Not one name or Tribe or even an acknowledgment of
their existence in the film. Seeing that the tribesmen are on screen
90% of the time, it seems a bit odd. Or maybe not.
It is striking to see the natives in full display. There are cornrows, face piercing, tattoos, and fully exposed female breasts. There is even a "soul" handshake. All for your perusal for the price of a ticket. But no screen credit, as if they were somehow animated props.
Racism and the dehumanization of the native people as a standard practice in Hollywood (and society) in 1931 was the status quo. So we will leave it at that.
The film itself is quite a remarkable achievement. It is the granddaddy of jungle pictures and enjoyable today. There are incredible shots of wildlife and white life in contrast. A Caucasian woman raised by the natives and "rescued" by our heroes, cannibals, pygmies, love and death laid out against a tapestry of a beautiful virgin landscape.
We moderns have lost our wonder and awe for this type of thing, but one could imagine audiences in 1931 completely enjoying this walk on the wild side guilty pleasure and relishing a ride to dark side.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Watch this movie for the on location footage. Yes, the plot is simple but it is enough to keep the movie progressing forward with much interest. I was fascinated with the footage of various real African tribes. Lots of facial closeups and extensive footage of ceremonies with dancing and drums. This very much seems the real thing and represents Africa at a more primitive early century. I felt the dread of our adventurers when they are up next as sacrifices to the tribal ceremony. I suppose if you want to see stereotyping you can, but I saw both the good and the bad exhibited by these tribes. To know that they traveled in 1930 to do all this on location is quite amazing. The wildlife footage is the main focus of our films beginning. It feels very nature show but feels a different reality than the nature shows of today. The brutality of nature and of mans very real slaughter of creatures in this film may bother the squeamish. Truly ground breaking film for 1931.
With a background spanning over twenty years in the African bush during
the 60's, 70's and 80's I am amazed at the locations used for filming.
In 1930 (film released in '31) the areas used were very remote and
still are over eighty years later.
Part of the film was shot on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika along with another in the interior of Uganda. The Pygmy (Efe) segment is from the Ituri Forest in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo and besides being very remote and hazardous was, and still is, an unhealthy area. As recent as 2003, marauding rebels were seizing Pygmy hunters and eating them according to the U.N.
Uganda, Tanganyika (Tanzania) and the southern Sudan were rampant with Malaria and a number of production crew fell ill with it. The Tse Fly was the bearer of Sleeping Sickness and prevalent in these areas as well as the Kenya Colony where some filming took place.
Although the plot is lacking by today's standards, the commitment to film in these areas was a major attempt to show the real Africa of its time along with footage of it's indigenous Flora and Fauna. Due to this diligence, today we have a timed photographic encapsulation of these areas available to the general public which is not readily accessible elsewhere.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie took six months on site(s) in Africa. That was about three times the usual for the time. Upon return to the States some of the film was deemed unusable. So a crew went to Mexico and re-shot some scenes. Edwina Booth plays Nina, lost daughter of white missionaries. She is queen of an African tribe when she is found. To me she looked scared the whole time she played the queen but I think she was suppose to be looking savage and mean. While she runs around almost nude the entire time she is on screen there is nothing that shows. This was a ground breaking role for her and it also was basically the end of her career. She contracted malaria and it took her six years to recover. By then she had been all but forgotten. Harry Carey is the experienced, older white hunter who is chaperoning the son of an old friend around. Captured by Nina's tribe, all the bearers are tortured, killed and I guess eaten. When it becomes their turn Nina saves the two whites and their gun bearer. They escape with the girl and lead all on a merry chase. Then Carey separates from the pair to lead the trackers away. The end of the movie has Carey starting out on an expedition to find the two but just as he is leaving they show up. Filmed in 1931 when animals were shot or otherwise miss treated for movie scenes there are several times when this appears to happen here. The rhinos that shot and killed, the lions and leopards that attack the other animals were reportedly starved so they would attack. I don't think a lion who was not starving would go after a warthog, they are very formidable opponents. While did not care for the needless killings and such this is not a bad movie for 1931.
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