Monday, April 15, 2013


It's funny what I can remember about specific films. The first time I saw Howard Hawks's HATARI! (1961) was when it was broadcast on the CBS THURSDAY NIGHT MOVIE. I was in junior high at the time and while I don't recall the exact year of the broadcast I know that I watched it with my brother and that we ate take-out chopped barbecue on a bun sandwiches while we watched the movie. It was one of the few times my brother and I sat down together to watch something that wasn't sports related. I was (and still am) the bigger film fan and he may have just been humoring his little brother but I suspect he enjoyed the movie as much as I did.

One small thing about HATARI! stayed with me for years. There's a scene where John Wayne "fixes" Hardy Kruger's dislocated shoulder by placing his foot on Kruger's shoulder, grabbing his arm and yanking it hard. I thought that must have hurt like hell but it showed just how tough the Duke was.

Of course the greatest thing about HATARI! to my pre-teen eyes were the sequences in which Wayne and his crew were capturing African wildlife for zoos and circuses around the world. The scenes were shot on location in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and in those dim, dark and distant pre-CGI days those were real men in real vehicles trying to catch real animals in a real location. Rhinos, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests and cape buffaloes are all the objects of thrilling chase-and-catch sequences which are hands down the single best thing about this entire movie. I loved those parts of the movie when I was a kid (Steven Spielberg must have loved them too since he paid homage to them in JURASSIC PARK II: THE LOST WORLD) and when I watched the film again the other day (for the first time in many years), it's the animal chases that still stood out as dangerously thrilling stuff to watch.

It's a good thing catching wild animals is exciting because every other second of HATARI!'s bloated 157 minute running time is deadly dull. It's one of those rare movies in which absolutely nothing much happens. Outside of the animal hunts, there's nothing of interest here despite a script by Leigh Brackett and a cast that includes John Wayne, Red Buttons, Hardy Kruger, Elsa Martinelli and Bruce Cabot. There's lots of bits of "business" that are semi-humorous and Wayne and Martinelli fall in love over the course of the film, as do Buttons and Michele Girardon. But once all of the animals on the crews' want list have been captured, the movie is effectively over. 

Except that it isn't. Hawks pads out the final 15 or so minutes of the film with a chase involving three baby elephants that looks like something lifted whole from a Walt Disney film of the same vintage. It's cute and kinda funny but it's pure filler. Other than the challenge of capturing the animals, there's no other major problem to be solved, no life-or-death situation to be faced and conquered, no dramatic third-act complication that would create suspense about the final outcome of the story. 

In short, without the animal hunt sequences, there's really nothing worth seeing in HATARI! But boy, are those animal chases great. They're even better if you're eating a chopped barbecue on a bun sandwich while watching them.

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