News Column

'Hatari!' a different look for the Duke

May 10, 2013


May 10--One constant in the Friends of the Fox Classic Film Series lineup is the inclusion of a John Wayne movie, and the group offers the Duke in an altogether different role when it screens "Hatari!" at 7 p.m. today at the Bob Hope Theatre.

Rather than one of his Westerns or war epics, the Friends present Wayne in a light, comedic travelogue that is described by some as a film built around director Howard Hawks' desire to shoot in Africa.

His visuals of Tanganyika -- now Tanzania -- in East Africa, are the highlight of the 1962 movie about a group of hunters who trap animals for zoos. Their adventure is disrupted by the arrival of Elsa Martinelli as a photographer who promises her zoo in Switzerland will buy the animals if she's allowed to ride along and photograph them.

Wayne's Sean Mercer is not altogether a reach for the actor. He's a "good-natured, but hard-drinking, hot-tempered, big Irishman who 'thinks women are trouble' in a man's world," by one description. Think McClintock going after big game instead of cattle (and Maureen O'Hara).

"Hatari!" is an action film of the first order, with Wayne and the cast doing their own stunts. Animal trainers were on set, but the actors themselves trapped them as hunters would. According to the Internet Movie Data Base, the dialogue had to be redubbed because of the colorful language Wayne used when wrestling with the animals.

Red Buttons, as the wise cracking jeep driver, and Martinelli, as the photographer upsetting the boys' club, drew high praise for their turns in the movie that also introduced Henry Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk."

While recent films set in Africa have tended to focus on the plight of the people -- "The Last King of Scotland, "Blood Diamond" and "Hotel Rwanda," for example -- "Hatari!" captures the beauty of the continent and the animals that set it apart from other locales.


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