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Click above to purchase "Hatari!" at amazon.com

 

Hatari!

review by Anthony D.

Studio: Paramount

Running Time: 157 minutes

Starring John Wayne, Elsa Martinelli, Red Buttons, Hardy Kruger

Written by Leigh Brackett

Directed by Howard Hawks

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Theatrical Re-Release Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital Mono, French Dolby Digital Mono, English Closed Captions, English Subtitles, Scene Selection

Released: July 24th, 2001

In Swahili, "Hatari!" means "danger." In my person lexicon, "Hatari!" means "great two and a half hours of mighty fine entertainment." Howard Hawks' 1962 film has long been my personal favorite John Wayne performance, and that's a mighty tall statement, pilgrim. For it is in "Hatari!" that Wayne's persona shines through: this is not the one-eyed, over-the-hill, pot-bellied marshal saddled with a whimpering adolescent or crotchety old missionary; nor is it the stalwart bigoted soldier seeking a niece kidnaped by injuns; not the head honcho on a rough cattle drive facing the tides of time. "Hatari!" is John Wayne with a comedic sensibility, armed only with sedative darts and ropes tracking down wild animals in the African veldt lands. This is a John Wayne with a romantic leaning, a fire that burns nearly as bright as in "The Quiet Man," and a luscious leading lady to burn that flame for. This is John Wayne with no political agenda, unless pure entertainment can be considered a political statement. "Hatari!" is simply fun, beautifully filmed on locations with real wildlife in all its unpredictable, unscripted glory. Toss in a classic Henry Mancini score, a supporting cast that truly knows the meaning of support, and sure-footed direction from the under-appreciated Howard Hawks and you've got quite simply one of the most undervalued films of 1962.

Hawks is a director without a personal stamp, surprisingly enough. Working continually for several decades, Hawks managed to squeeze out films in practically any genre you can name. Comedy? Does "Bringing Up Baby" ring a bell as one of the finest screwball comedies ever filmed? "Twentieth Century?" Another screwball classic. Musical? Hawks helmed that Marilyn Monroe showcase, "Gentlemen Prefer Blonds." Western? "Red River" ranks highly as one of the most influential westerns of all time. Romance? Why, Hawks is the man that brought Bogie and Bacall together for "To Have and Have Not!" Epic? Even beneath all the camp gaudiness "Land of the Pharaohs" still glitters. Gangster? Yes, indeedy: Hawks helmed the one and only original "Scarface," complete with a subversive incestuous theme running through it. With a clean, uncluttered directional style, Hawks' films always celebrate bonding, people who are held together by their camaraderie as well as their work; films wherein the women are every bit as smart, tough and fast-talking as the men, often more so. "Hatari!" is no exception.

A celebration of the trials and tribulations of a rowdy group of professional game hunters, "Hatari!" is a picaresque, plot-less, spectacular adventure picture. Even the title is alliterative: Howard Hawks' "Hatari!. Starting with an exciting rhinoceros hunt through the grasslands, "Hatari!" takes wing and provides a turbulence free flight of fancy. It is so great to see real rhinos charging jeeps and trucks rather than computer-generated-imagery of these monstrous beasts. In the hunt we meet the central core of characters, who have been together in the African plains for nearly twenty years. Wayne is, of course, the leader, Sean Mercer; and what a visage he had in 1962! Chiseled, but not weathered, and in the prime of life. His cohorts include Red Buttons as a shy, romantically inclined, inventor of sorts; while hardy Kruger and Gerard Blain head up the European end of a romantic rectangle. The object of all their affections is Brandy, stunningly portrayed by Michele Girardon. A fine, telling scene has Red Buttons dropping his guard and dancing with her to a jazzy Mancini theme.

Thrown into this insulated, nearly tribal, group is magazine photographer A. M. D'Allesandro, whose arrival, though expected, is surprising since the initials stand for "Anna Maria," and she's a babe! A beautiful Italian bambina, to be sure when played by international favorite, Elsa Martinelli, whose vast credits include such luminous screen appearances in "The V.I.P.s," "The 10th Victim" and "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium." A former model, did I mention that she has a fantastic figure? - Martinelli matches Wayne, retort for retort, drink for drink and creates chaos when she adopts a lost baby elephant. Cue up that Mancinin standard, "Baby Elephant Walk," and you'll find in Chapter 14, one of the most seamless blendings of music and imagery as Martinelli leads her band of babies through the brush. Even though Mancini's "Bay Elephant Walk" would go on to be a popular jukebox hit, I'm more partial to the delightful "Ostrich" theme; John Wayne and ostriches is nothing like "Dude, Where's My Car?" by the way.

As stated, there really isn't a plot to "Hatari!" There are a series of character defining scenes, none of which have lost their ability to entertain. Elsa Martinelli in John Wayne's bed. Red Buttons' drunken conversations. The fantastic Rube Golbergian invention to catch 500 monkeys. Martinelli meeting a cheetah while taking a bath. Wayne wrangling animals. Martinelli wrangling Wayne in a charming seduction scene. Real animals, which in their natural glory and natural surroundings, well, not always, there is an elephant innocently destroying a store - - animals never cease to amaze.

"Hatari!" has been enhanced in a widescreen version for 16:9 viewers, with a print which for the most part is in excellent condition. "Hatari!" shows its age, not so much through digital artifacts, or wear and tear, or grain; but through its soft '60's studio look. Colors don't leap from the screen, rather they possess a water-colored quality, akin to a fine, but muted, work of art. The digital clarity of the presentation, on the other hand, is well above average. The photography of the second unit has a smattering of grain, which the remainder of the film rarely shows. Reds, though hardly in use, have that sorta tomato tone to them, while fleshtones are solid, if soft. Edge enhancement is in evidence, but not to a point of distraction. All in all, Paramount (not known for its commitment to restoring older titles) has released a good, if sadly, not great presentation of "Hatari!"

Paramount has done a restoration on "Hatari!'s" original mono soundtrack, and though pleasing to the ears, is not without its problems. Of course, dialogue is always intelligible - even with the accents of Martinelli, Kruger and Blain - and the natural calls of the animals come through nicely; the soundtrack could have been tweaked a little bit more, as it seems to have been cranked down a little low. I found that adjusting the volume a couple of notches higher than my normal listening setting compensated somewhat. Surprisingly, or not, there is a scattering of bass, most noticeable in the hunting scenes, which add a reality to the soundtrack. Henry Mancini's score rings true, as well it should, since the RCA Victor album of selections from "Hatari!" was a chart-buster in the early 1960's. It would have been nice had Paramount gone one step further with their restoration and at least given us a stereo mix of the music. The mono soundtrack doesn't have a wide soundstage, but it is more than likely an accurate presentation of the original soundtrack. A mono French soundtrack has also been included, in addition to the Closed Captioning for the Hearing Impaired.

Short on the Chapters, short on the Features; as the saying goes. For all of its 157 minute running time, Paramount has eked out a mere 17 Chapters - for those of you into the trivial end of things (I stand guilty), that's roughly ten minutes per chapter. This could have been timed out much better by adding cues for Mancini's themes, as Chapter 14 once again demonstrates. This is the Chapted encoded as "Baby Elephant Walk (the actual title of the Mancini composition), but before the music begins, there's close to two minutes of dialogue and action. Just a thought on my part. Otherwise, there is a theatrical trailer - re-release at that- which is thoroughly delightful, though ragged. Even thought the menu screens are static, they're beautifully designed with African influenced icons and backgrounds.

As a film, I cannot recommend "Hatari!" enough, and am still amazed that it's not as well-known as other Howard Hawks films. I truly believe that even John Wayne nay-sayers will find this to be a delightful romp. Parents tiring of watching Disney fare with their kids really ought to check this one out, as not only will adults be amused by the antics of the humans, the animal activity will delight the child in all of us. A film which celebrates the lives of these men and women, who put themselves into danger daily, brimming with energy and never cloying, "Hatari!" hits the target for fine family fare.

(4.5/5 - NOT included in final score)

(3/5)

(2.5/5)

(.5/5)

(2.5/5, NOT an average)

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