Note: this review is a translation of my original review of the movie I've seen in 2009. Since it was one of my first long reviews I've decided to translate it for everyone's benefit. I will do series of re-edits for the films that actually were reviewed in French in the first moments of this blog.
With an uneasy career thorough the many Hollywoodian studios, Howard Hawks was regarded has one of the difficult directors of its time. Regaining his shine of the old days with the French New Wave"rs" as the perfect epitome of the auteur theory, the French critics of Les Cahiers du Cinéma sacred Hawks as one of the greatest American cineaste. In the latest years one of the most hip directors working today, Quentin Tarantino, places Hawks right besides Leone as his favorite directors of all-time. The Hawksian influence on Tarantino is in the dialogues and the mastery of genre films.
The story of Hatari! is quite simple, we follow a group of men who must hunt wild animals during three months in Africa for a Swiss zoo. This already adventurous setting gets more challenging when Dallas (Elsa Martinelli), the beautiful photograph from Italy, joins their group. The strong nature of each member of the group will bring the challenges and interactions within the hunters. In the opening, every male member of the team is presented in a very classical way. They represent Man mastering Nature and the Woman that is symbolized by the female rhinoceros they must capture. One of the most difficult and fighting animal of the entire order. This scene has some succulent lines like: "I think it's a female; she doesn't know where to go and seems to turn on herself." This is a Hawks trademark to mock strong women while always populating all his films with them.
On the other hand, the paternal presence of John Wayne is well felt in the team of men. He looks upon every member of the group and he plays the moderator to keep the chemistry of the little civilization they have on the camp. It might be one of Wayne's most interesting roles, plenty of funny lines and he seems to be in his element even if witnesses of the shooting said that he was so afraid of shooting the scenes in the chair at the front of the jeep.
As of all the Howard Hawks pictures there are women characters displaying strong personalities wanting to valuate themselves amongst the men. Dallas who represents Wayne's character's love interest and Betty the daughter of the ex-boss who got killed by a rhinoceros. Betty is wanted by three men and finally when she decides who's the lucky winner the resting two other men solidarity meet up and reinforce their friendship. This particular relationship is very Hawks' typical and it is almost bold subtext that both men are sharing a somewhat homosexual relationship after their rejection by Betty. It was typical of Hawks to portray great friendships by the trade of objects and friendly mockery. These observations are particular for Hawks' entire oeuvre.
François Truffaut, once analyzed Hatari! as a demonstration of Hawks' directing: a little group supervised by a father figure, the director, who must capture the right animals, images, to populate a film, a zoo, and he must used every member of the group and his strenght to succeed in their way to goodwill together.
The scenes of action involving the many animals are riveting and breath taking all shot on location in the vein of many Hollywoodian films shot in Africa at this time Hatari! is the most interesting of all. The many scenes with elephants and the light hearted comedy makes this film one of this critique's favorite adventure films of all time. A coup de coeur!