Over his forty-four year career as a director, Howard Hawks tried his hand at just about every conceivable film genre including musicals ("Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"), gangster films ("Scarface"), and Westerns ("Rio Bravo"). It’s a disservice to Hawks’s immense talent to try to encapsulate his unique style into a sentence or two but there are some key, signature ingredients that can be found in nearly every one of his films -- a dedication to character development, witty dialogue, and a subtle, unforced sense of humor.
"Hatari!" (not to be confused with "Daktari," a similarly themed television series) came towards the end of Hawks’s career and marked yet another successful collaboration between the director and that icon of the silver screen, John Wayne. Dismissed in its day as a simple-minded film by a director in the twilight of his years, in retrospect "Hatari!" stands as one of the great adventure movies and exhibits all the classic hallmarks of a Howard Hawks film.
John Wayne portrays Sean Mercer, the leader of a band of adventurers who capture wild game in Africa for sale to circuses and zoos. Along with his partners Kurt Mueller (Hardy Krüger), Pockets (Red Buttons), Chips Chalmoy (Gérard Blain), and Little Wolf (Bruce Cabot), Mercer and his gang lead a very rough-and-tumble existence out on the Serengeti plain. But their little brotherhood is soon challenged when Italian photojournalist Anna Maria "Dallas" D’Allesandro (Elsa Martinelli) arrives on the scene to document both the animals and the men. Throw in young and beautiful Brandy de la Corte (Michèle Girardon), daughter of the group’s primary financial backer, and the sparks soon fly. In Swahili, "hatari" means "danger" and here the danger presents itself as much in the swirl of a skirt as in the charge of an angry rhino.
"Hatari!" is at its core a simple, light-hearted action comedy that affords the actors ample opportunity to have fun with the material and it’s the easy chemistry between the cast members that makes the film far more enjoyable than it might otherwise have been. Throw in plenty of scenes featuring the actors themselves capturing and wrestling with a whole host of African animals and the end result is sheer entertainment. It’s hard to imagine a studio in this day and age greenlighting a film that features a top movie star strapped to the hood of a speeding truck and swinging a lasso in an attempt to capture a real live rhino. They just don’t make them like they used to.
"Hatari!" is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Colors are accurate and solid from beginning to end and really bring the wonderful cinematography to life. For the most part the image is nice and sharp but medium and long range shots are noticeably softer, grainier, and less detailed -- presumably as the result of filters being used to counteract the harsh conditions. Fortunately, no attempt was made to artificially sharpen the image so the picture remains very natural looking throughout. The film elements do display a bit of wear and tear on occasion but these blemishes are never a distraction. Given the age of the movie, and the nature of the filming environment, this is a very good video transfer.
Audio is offered in a newly restored English Dolby Digital mono mix as well as a French mono dub. The soundtrack is split between the two front speakers and offers up more dynamic range than I was expecting. While the subwoofer certainly won’t be taxed, there is some nice medium bass present. Dialogue is always clear as well and the audio remains distortion free throughout. Even viewers who aren’t immediately familiar with ’Hatari!,’ will likely recognize at least some of Henry Mancini’s lighthearted musical score and its presentation here is quite lively. Just because the audio is in mono doesn’t mean it’s weak and "Hatari!" serves as a fine example of proper audio restoration.
The only extra included on the disc is the film’s theatrical trailer -- which is quite entertaining in its own right.
"Hatari!" is the type of film that slowly grows on you. The long running time allows for a leisurely pace and by the end of the film you’ll feel right at home with Sean Mercer and his cohorts. The dialogue and character interplay is truly top-notch and would be enjoyable even if the setting were more subdued. But the addition of the wonderful African scenery and exciting chase scenes adds that much more to the mix and the end result is yet another classic from the great Howard Hawks.
The video and audio quality of this new DVD release from Paramount are top-notch considering the age and condition of the film elements. A few insightful extras would have been appreciated but it seems that Howard Hawks’s films always get the short end of the DVD stick. But it’s the movie itself that really matters and "Hatari!" is one heck of a fun ride.