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W(oodbridge) S(trong) Van Dyke (1889-1943) directed the MGM motion
picture TRADER HORN in 1930 and later wrote a book about the production
titled HORNING INTO Africa (1931). This was the first major Hollywood
picture to shoot on location in Africa, which in this case meant Kenya
and the Belgian Congo. Van Dyke hired professional big game hunters
Sydney Waller and Dicker Dickenson to provide both the action footage
and the meat required for the film crew's daily rations.
HORN starred Harry Carey, Edwina Booth, Aubrey Smith, and Duncan Renaldo. Miss Booth, who bravely agreed to wear the horrendous makeup required for her character (ultra-realistic when you compare it to later "lost white princesses" like Sheena and the woman in JUNGLE GODDESS) nearly died from a severe case of malarial fever caught while in the Congo. Van Dyke produced so much stock footage of African crocodiles, wildlife, and scenery that it was recycled for years in Hollywood films about the Dark Continent, including the great MGM TARZAN movies starring Johnny Weissmuller and the incomparable Maureen O'Sullivan.
TRADER HORN has been re-mastered and is an amazing document of Old Africa, providing footage of local cultural life and a long-lost wildlife paradise. Much of the natural history information given in the film (the lead character gives his protégé sort of a guided tour of the Serengeti) is more accurate than that contained in most hunting books of the time. There are also some authentic hunting sequences, as well as numerous "staged" battles like that between a pair of leopards and some hyenas.
Incidentally, the crew of TRADER HORN was widely blamed for disrupting the local economy, at least by the colonials and at least as far as visiting photographers and film-makers were concerned. The story goes that the production unit wanted footage of a particularly impressive East African tribal chief, and offered him the sum of £40 pounds for the privilege. That amount was many, many times the going rate, and the local people immediately realized that they had been getting ripped off for years. MGM set the new price; even twenty years later Masai and Samburu warriors were often demanding as much as £1 for a still photo, and the colonials were still complaining about it.
A remake of TRADER HORN was made in 1973. Starring Rod Taylor and Anne Heywood, it was so bad that the studio almost canceled its release. It is particularly remarkable for Taylor's performance as an Englishman; judging from his accent he was born in a quaint English cottage on the South Side of Chicago.
THE SIN SHIP starring Mary Astor, is a quirky pre-code, early talkie star vehicle. Its great moment occurs within the first few minutes, when the jaded sea captain puts the move on his innocent passenger (Astor). After that, it's a mixed bag: technologically dated, blessed with a better-than-competent acting job by Astor, and doubly blessed with some tremendous over-acting by the other main characters. The film is still evocative after 70+ years but suffers from a sloppy ending, obviously tacked on to provide the desired emotional tone. If you want good plotting, this isn't your movie, but if you want an introduction to Mary Astor during her early talkie years this odd film is very suitable.