Hatari! is a 1962 movie written by Leigh Brackett, directed by Howard Hawks, starring John Wayne, Hardy Kruger, and Elsa Martinelli. It is charming, fun, well-paced, and, well, character driven by default since there isn’t a huge amount of plot happening. Apparently both cast and crew treated the movie as a working vacation, and it shows in the relaxed, enjoyable performances. Audiences agreed with the idea, because it was the 8th highest grossing film of 1962 (cite: IMDB.)
John Wayne is he-man head wrangler Sean Mercer of the Momella Game Company, a live capture operation that supplies animals to zoos. Kruger is Kurt Muller, the expert driver and crack shot who stands by with a rifle while the capture is ongoing. Someone named (really?) Red Buttons is also named (really?) Pockets for his omnipresent cargo pants, also an expert driver but who is afraid of wild animals–a situation ripe for, you guessed it, hilarity.
The movie opens with the backup rifleman (you do not want just one guy with a gun while you are hunting rhinos) The Indian gets gored in the leg, an extremely bad injury. Holy smokes, that was Bruce Cabot? I’ll be. The Indian hasn’t gotten out of surgery yet, when someone else shows up looking for his job–to the displeasure of the tight-knit crew. However, the newcomer–Frenchman “Chips”–earns some favor back by donating rare-type blood to The Indian, and is promised a consideration, at least.
Back at the ranch, things take a turn for the confusing as an unknown female (Elsa Martinelli) has turned up in Sean’s bed, reason and whereabouts unknown:
She is wildlife photographer Dallas, heroine and love interest of the movie. And the chase commences. After a bit of a rocky start–
–she finds her feet–
Becoming a valued member of the team, and the adoptive mother of not one, but three baby elephants in the process.
The main conflicts of the movie are interpersonal: Kurt and Chips’ rivalry for Brandy (the young owner of the Company), Dallas and Pocket’s friendship, and Dallas and Sean’s two steps forward and one step back relationship.
Sean, you see, was badly burnt by his previous fiancee, and despite his attraction to Dallas, is unable to look past his own manly pains and accept that attraction as real. Dallas, for her part, does her level best to encourage him–
–but can’t actually break through on her own. Or, to be slightly more accurate, gets the moment killed by external forces each and every time she does. (This technique rewards the tension while also keeping it high, and also injects a little humor into the mix to take the sting out of waiting. This was, recall, written by an expert.)
The overarching action plot–livecapturing animals–is bookended by a beginning and ending effort to capture a rhino.
But the capture of the rhino marks the end of hunting season, and the crew is to disband until the next year–and Dallas still hasn’t broken through to Sean and doesn’t feel that she ever can. She leaves.
This leads us to the perhaps most awesome and adorable Race For Your Love scene ever filmed, with baby elephants used as sniffer dogs through downtown Nairobi…..
And, They Do.
Rated: Three out of three baby elephants. They don’t make movies like this any more.