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John Wayne and his ensemble cast cavort over the African landscape filling orders from zoos for wild animals. Bruce Cabot plays "the Indian", a womanizing sharpshooter who is gored by a rhino in the opening scenes of the film. This becomes a running theme through the movie; their bad luck in catching rhinos, and provides the climactic ending chase. While Bruce is in the hospital, Elsa Martinelli shows up as a woman photographer from a Swiss zoo, and John wants to send her packing. She strongarms the Duke into letting her stay by promising that her zoo will buy most of their animals this season if she's allowed to go along on the hunts and take photos. Hardy Kruger, Gerard Blain, Michelle Girardon and Valentin de Vargas round out the group. They traipse over the African landscape capturing animals; Elsa also has a running gag where she collects baby elephants as the movie goes along. In the end she's acquired three of them. Written by
Marta Dawes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
HATARI! may be the most enjoyable of the Howard Hawks/John Wayne collaborations (their other pairings produced the classics RED RIVER and RIO BRAVO, and the RIO BRAVO 'remakes' EL DORADO and RIO LOBO), and is exceptional in several ways; at 157 minutes (2 hours, 37 minutes), it may be one of the longest 'buddy' films ever made; nearly all of the animal 'chase and capture' sequences involved the actual cast members (professional handlers serving as stunt doubles were only rarely used); and the filming began with virtually no script (which was written based on the 'on location' footage in Africa, after the cast returned to California). At 65, director Hawks was still in top form, and the risks he took paid off...HATARI!, despite it's length, is never boring!
The story focuses on a season with a team of professional hunter/trappers, capturing animals for zoos and circuses. With a breathtaking opening scene of a rhino chase, costing them the use of veteran driver, 'Indian' (legendary actor Bruce Cabot), the 'family' dynamic is quickly established, with rugged Sean Mercer (Wayne) both boss and father-figure to the group. As he and the rest of the 'family' (Red Buttons, Hardy Krüger, Valentin de Vargas, and Michèle Girardon) meet 'Indian's' replacement, 'Chips' (Gérard Blain), Mercer has an even bigger headache to deal with; beautiful photographer Anna Maria 'Dallas' D'Allesandro (Elsa Martinelli) has arrived, to shoot a magazine spread. A 'traditional' Hawks leading lady, 'Dallas' is feisty, sultry, and attracted to Mercer, and the older man, uncomfortable with the ease by which she fits into the group, as well as his own stirrings, tries to make it clear that romance has no place on his agenda (in much the same manner as he did with Angie Dickinson in RIO BRAVO...and with the same results).
While some elements of the story are dated and politically incorrect (shooting a baby African elephant, even as a 'mercy killing', would be a major offense, today, as it is an endangered species), the combination of spectacular 'hunt' sequences, and the warmth and easy camaraderie of the cast in the subplots make HATARI! a rich, rewarding experience.
A major plus for the film is a very atypical Henry Mancini score, combining tense, African-influenced themes for the chases, and the very funny 'Elephant Walk' to punctuate 'Dallas's' relationship with her adopted pachyderm 'children'. The baby elephant scenes are film highlights, as is the rocket capture of a tree filled with monkeys, and both rhino chases (which clearly shows Wayne in some real danger!)
From the opening rhino sequence to the closing 'Honeymoon' scene, HATARI! is a grand entertainment, and escapism at it's best!
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