Hatari! (1962): Howard Hawks Oscar-Nominated Adventure, Starring John Wayne and International Cast

In Hatari! (Which means “danger” in Swahili), director Howard Hawks again shows his penchant for strong characterization at the expense of a more conventional plot or narrative.
Nominally, the film is about an international team of game catchers, rounding up animals under contract for zoos during a three-month season in Africa’s Tanganyika.
At the time, some critics praised the film as a brilliant piece of “pure cinema,” one that relies on authentic geographical locations, space, movement, tension, and editing. A darling director of auteurist critics, Hawks continues his thematic exploration of the mores of a professional team, placing emphasis on (healthy) competition and rivalry, possession of skills, and above all, the joy of male camaraderie.
The leader of the devil-may-care group is American, John Wayne’s Sean Mercer, a vet of numerous game chases. The band’s members include Kurt Stahl (Hardy Kruger), a former racing driver, and Pockets (comedian Red Buttons), who once made a living as a New York taxi driver. Adding foreign color to the wild bunch is Chip Maurey (Gerard Blain), a self-assured Frenchman, and an Argentinean named Luis (Valentin de Vargas).
One Female
There’s only one female in the group, Serafina d’Allesandro, nicknamed Dallas (Italian beauty Elsa Martinelli), a photographer who has inadvertently misled the animal hunters about her gender; they expected a male.
Dallas wants to gain acceptance on the expedition, but John Wayne believes that Africa is no place for women and that she is not suited for what he considers to be a man’s work. “Why don’t you find what kind of girl I am before you make up your mind” she suggests. Falling in love with him, she wants to understand what he has against women. “Oh, he thinks they’re trouble,” says his close friend Pockett (Red Buttons), telling her of a woman Wayne once brought out to the camp, who didn’t like it and left.
Pockett also provides an explanation for Wayne’s sexual code: “If he doesn’t like you, he doesn’t care and he can be nice to you. But if he does like you, he doesn’t want to get in any deeper, so he acts mean.” In short, “the more he likes you, the meaner he acts.”
Dallas is not discouraged by Wayne’s indifference, however, and decides to take a bold move. “Sean, how do you like to kiss” she asks, but he finds her question baffling and ends the conversation abruptly, “It’s silly to stand around and talk about it.” Dallas decides to leave the camp. Wayne, just like with Feathers in Rio Bravo” and Michelle in North to Alaska,” can’t admit outright he loves her, but he goes out of his way to make her stay, requesting the police aid.
The film critic Archer Winsten (New York Post, July 12, 1962) succinctly summed up John Wayne’s pattern of courtship after seeing Hatari!” He wrote: “Most of the male-female relationships occur in that older, half-adolescent level which used to be good clean fun in so many Hollywood outdoor pictures. The man’s always very embarrassed and shy, despite his hairy-chested virility, and the adoring girl must encourage him.”
But the love affair is just one minor aspect of this rich experience, sort of an excuse to market the film as a romance and thus appeal to female viewers as well. Above all, “Hatari! gives credence to the motto, “cinema for cinema’s sake.”
Oscar Nominations: 1
Cinematography (Color): Russell Harlan
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context:
The winner was Freddie Young for David Lean’s historical epic “Lawrence of Arabia,” which swept most of the 1962 awards, including Best Picture.
Sean Mercer–John Wayne
Kurt Stahl–Hardy Kruger
Dallas (Serafina d’Allesandro)–Elsa Martinelli
Pockets–Red Buttons
Chip Maurey–Gerard Blain
Brandy-Michele Girardon
Indian–Bruce Cabot
Luis–Valentin De Vargas
Running Time: 157 Minutes
Release on May 24, 1962
Produced and directed by Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Leigh Brackett, from a story by Harry Kurnitz Music: Henry Mancini
Camera: Russell Harlan
Editing: Stuart Gilmore