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Hatari!

Screening on Film
Directed by Howard Hawks.
With John Wayne, Hardy Kruger, Elsa Martinelli.
US, 1962, 35mm, color, 159 min.
Print source: Swank

If there’s one film that crystallizes what critics generally mean when they use the term “Hawksian,” it’s Hatari!, the director’s ambling, good-natured, character-driven late film about a motley crew of safari wranglers who catch and sell exotic wild animals in the African desert. Like The Dawn Patrol or Only Angels Have Wings,the film focuses on the bonds formed within a group of men—and in this case, two women—doing daunting physical work in a remote region, and, in perhaps the most Hawksian trait of all, it jettisons plot to fixate almost entirely on the schmoozing and leisure time that always at least punctuates Hawks’ storytelling. Here, we’re immersed in the day-to-day activities of Sean Mercer (John Wayne) and his team, a rowdy bunch that includes a former NYC cabbie (Red Buttons), a Mexican bullrider (Valentin de Vargas), and a sage old chap referred to only as “The Indian,” whose injury at the horns of an angry rhino constitutes one of the film’s few instances of narrative tension. In the absence of high stakes, Hatari! relishes in gags and good humor, much of it generated by the arrival of a beautiful Italian photographer (Elsa Martinelli) who forces Sean to come to terms with his past struggles with women. Long and digressive, the film features some of Hawks’ most enjoyable scene construction and character building.

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