Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Sean leads a group of several men, consisting among other out of Kurt, Pockets, and the "Indian", who catch wild animals, like a rhinoceros and a zebra, in East Africa in order to sell them to the Zoo. Their routine is disrupted by the arrival of an attractive woman, Dallas, who is sent there to make photos of animals. Sean acts tough in front of her, but Dallas manages to gain his heart and they fall in love. She also adopts three little baby elephants and takes care of them in the camp. Pocket also invents a rocket that throws a giant net over monkeys on a tree, enabling their capture. Angry at Sean's cold nature towards her, Dallas departs to the airport, but Sean manages to persuade her to come back and they get married.
"Hatari!" is one of the examples of how dated some of John Wayne's movies seem today: it is marked by complete disregard for animal rights or sense for ecology, and some of the scenes would have been extremely scrutinized if they were filmed 30 years later (especially the infamous moment where a centuries old tree is chopped off just for the protagonists to capture monkeys for the Zoo) – because, as much as the sequences of Sean sitting on a hood of a speeding car trying to catch running giraffes or a rhinoceros with a sling are impressive, they are equally as misguided (in ethical sense). As some critics pointed out, the viewers cheer much more for the animals to escape. It would have worked much better if the protagonists were veterinaries, helping out the animals, since it would have made it much easier to gain some sympathy with them. However, one has to hand it to classic director Howard Hawks: his stories are consistently elegant and relaxed, with strong characters managing to carry the film, among others thanks to their friendship and loyalty, evident even in "Hatari!".
One of the most hilarious moments arrives when Dallas (excellent and very underrated actress Elsa Martinelli) is having a bath, but gets scared when a leopard enters the room and licks her knee (reminiscent of Hawks' own movie "Bringing Up Baby" also featuring a leopard), only for Pockets to arrive and "heroically" chase the cat away – until Sean points out that Pockets probably let the leopard enter in the first place, just to have an excuse to see Dallas in the bath. It is a well done homage to old school filmmaking, with a lot of humor and charm, whereas the landscapes are a delight, yet it is a curiosity at how the film has so much sympathy for some cute animal scenes (such as Dallas leading three baby elephants to take a bath in a lake) while managing to stay so indifferent towards their kidnappings for the Zoo at the same time. A good antidote for "Hatari!" is the Spencer-Hill comedy "I'm for the Hippopotamus" filmed 17 years later, where the protagonists were actually on the right side of this issue.