Happy Birthday, Little Alex!
Now, before I get into the movie, let me welcome my twelfth follower, Kristine Ong Muslim. She was briefly the thirteenth, but The Perpetual Vacationers have departed. A professional writer, Kristine has a list of accolades that I cannot do justice, so I will simply copy the literary bio from her own website:
"Kristine Ong Muslim has short fiction and poetry accepted in over five hundred literary and mainstream anthologies, periodicals, and podcasts. Her work received several Honorable Mentions in Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. She also garnered multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Dzanc Books' Best of the Web 2011, and the Science Fiction Poetry Association's Dwarf Stars Award and Rhysling Award. Her stories and poems appear in many publications, including Bellevue Literary Review, Boston Review, Contrary Magazine, Existere, Harpur Palate, Hobart, Mary Journal, Narrative Magazine, Pank, Potomac Review, Southword, Sou'wester, The Pedestal Magazine, Turnrow, and Verse Daily. Her work is also published widely in genre venues, from Abyss & Apex to One Buck Horror."She read my last post in which I waxed authoritative concerning the qualities of the literary hero and so on, and immediately clicked on the "Follow" button. I cannot imagine what this gifted multi-genre author (with over a thousand followers of her own) finds compelling about the disjointed scribbling that I post here on occasion; I can only hope it wasn't a mistake! Welcome, Kristine. I'll try to live up to your expectations!
I rarely go to a theater to see a movie anymore, unless it's something really extraordinary, like Lord of the Rings. When my wife retired in 1996, we purchased a state of the art Sony home theater system for an amount of money that would have netted us a late model used car. A used car would have been gone and long forgotten, but this system hasn't lost a step. Its huge speakers dwarf the TV, which makes them pretty old-school components, but the Dolby electronics inside still rock the joint, the surround system will have you ducking behind the coffee table, and scenes with sirens and police radios can still draw the neighbors to see what's going on. I guess, in the same way that some audiophiles swear by tube-driven amplifiers (what our British cousins call valves), I'm an unshakable believer in speakers the size of dinner plates.
Not surprisingly, then, I have a substantial, and eclectic, movie collection, and many of the films are so not current that I'd be willing to wager that a fair proportion of my readership would consider them prehistoric, if they've even heard of them at all. That inspires me to share, as old gits like myself often do, but in this case, I'm not going to preach about the supposed superiority of my generation's entertainment. I do have opinions about that, but this is not about changing your mind, but simply giving members of my own generation a rush of nostalgia, while highlighting for the youngsters how things were done in the age before CGI, when, if a filmmaker wanted to show something on the screen, he had to find a way to film it with the camera exactly as it would appear.
It entered my universe in the summer of 1963, when I was sent to Monterey, California to live with my mom for a few weeks while school was out. Monterey was not the never-sleeping hotbed of entertainment that it is today; far from it. It was a dying fishing village, a tough town with a tougher economy. Adults found their escape in the bars and card rooms; for my 14 year old self, there were two movie houses that both changed their features once a week. Hatari arrived that summer, and I bought a ticket each day and stayed for two showings. That means I watched and enjoyed this movie fourteen times in the first week, and probably six to eight since. I refuse to apologize for saying it was a great film.
The movie begins with a tight view of the whole cast waiting in a ravine for some undisclosed event to unfold as Henry Mancini's masterful action theme begins with a few quiet, suspenseful notes presaging the Jaws theme. The view and music quickly explode into irresistible action as most of the cast attempt to chase down and capture a rhinoceros using a truck and a Jeep, as about ten miles of the magnificent Serengeti flow under the wheels. The attempt has to be broken off when the rhino gores the Jeep's passenger, "the Indian" (Bruce Cabot), their safety gunner, who holds his fire because he doesn't want to cost them their animal. By the end of that chase, anybody with two cells in their brain that crave adventure is aboard for the ride.
|Hardy Kruger, Elsa Martinelli, John Wayne, Red Buttons,|
Valentin de Vargas, and Michele Girardon
The action comes largely from interactions with the animals, which are not all captured in car chases. Seeing Red Buttons use a rocket to throw a net over a tree full of angry, panicked monkeys, and the rest of the crew collecting them while kitted up in homemade armor is worth the price of admission. Comedic intrigue is provided by the competition between Buttons, Kruger, and Blain for Girardon's affection, while straight comedy is the only way to describe Martinelli's ever-growing baby elephant collection (which in itself leads to a scene in which Red Buttons tries to milk a ram!). The serious romance is between John Wayne and Elsa Martinelli, which at 14 didn't bother me, as they were both quite a bit older than I was. But now, as an adult, it falls a little flat; seeing 27 year old Martinelli fall head over heels for 55 year old Wayne leaves me with a problem suspending disbelief. Sure, he's the Duke, but in the movie, he's just some old guy catching animals.
There are some colorful characters in this cast. Elsa Martinelli was an Italian runway model whose elfin beauty and "cute" accent (not to mention her undeniable similarity to a young Sophia Loren) opened the door to movies for her. By the time of Hatari, she had starred opposite Kirk Douglas in The Indian Fighter, and had won a prestigious European award for actors while playing the lead in Mario Monicelli's Donatella. Hardy Kruger, who owned the ranch in Tanganyika where the movie was filmed, had been conscripted into the Hitler Youth as a young teenager, and fought briefly against American forces in the closing weeks of World War II. It took him years to overcome that stigma, but he went on to have an illustrious career, including playing a senior German officer in A Bridge Too Far, while simultaneously serving as a technical advisor. He was the first postwar German actor to be accepted as a protagonist by Western audiences. Tragedy stalked Michele Girardon. Twenty-four and full of promise when Hatari was released, her career was basically over within a decade. She became involved with a married Spanish nobleman and notorious cad, who strung her along until he obtained a divorce, at which time he married another woman. She committed suicide with sleeping pills at the age of 36.
Henry Mancini's score has never received the critical acclaim it deserved. Mention Mancini, and people respond with The Pink Panther, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Days of Wine and Roses, and Peter Gunn. All of these are justifiably great scores, but Hatari had a scope, range, and power that wasn't present in the other works, simply because it wouldn't have fit. An individual song, Baby Elephant Walk, remains well-known and popular fifty years after the movie, but it deserved so much more.
The film is readily available in bargain bins from video stores to game shops, and is well worth the peanuts that they charge for a movie this old. The plot, the action, the old-fashioned way the characters treat each other are all charming and refreshing, reminders of how life was before we all decided to embrace snatchin' and grabbin' as a national culture. The scenery is so majestic, clear, and just big, that you can almost smell the fresh air. If it looks like John Wayne and company are wrestling with the animals, and if they look stressed and worried, it's because they are. You couldn't Photoshop a star's face onto a stuntman's body in those days, and Howard Hawks' cornerstone was believability. If the camera told you that John Wayne was standing between two trucks shoving on a rhino's ass, that's because he was. I cannot tell you strongly enough how enjoyable this movie is on so many levels. I cannot tell you strongly enough how glad you will be if you do get this movie, set aside the two-and-a-half hours that it runs, and immerse yourself in it. I can beg, though, and that's what I'm doing. Please do yourself a big, big favor, shell out the best $5.00 you'll spend in this decade, pop some corn, grab a soda, and settle back for the most enjoyable movie experience you'll have for a good long time. You can thank me later, and I'll bet you will, with a smile on your face. I'm going to take a break now; all this talk about Hatari has made me eager to spend some quality time with an old friend.
Astute observers will have noted the removal of my MixPod Music Player. I have constantly found it to be both a distraction as I'm trying to read, and an inconvenience when I want to listen to Jazz 88, for example, as I work on the blog, what with having to change the settings each time, so I just removed it. You know where to find music if you want it, and when I post about music, and want to put up some examples of what I'm talking about, I'll put it up temporarily and let it run as an enhancement to the current article. I just find that having it running all the time makes the site too "busy."
Within hours of my last post, I wore out another XBox 360. I was killing a little time by playing Left 4 Dead 2 when everything went black, and the red ring of death came on. This is the third time this has happened to me, and I probably don't have to tell those of you who know me that it's not going to happen again. I wrote in my last post about how my interest in video games is waning rapidly, but should it recover, I will be buying PlayStation 3 as the replacement. Bill Gates can put his worthless piece of crap where the sun doesn't shine. 360 has long been famous for taking a crap for no good reason, and I'm here to tell you, that isn't a rumor. Three consoles, bought at random from different places, and all I have to show for it is yet another electronic brick that, being a resident of the People's Democratic Republic of California, I will have to pay a recycle center to take off my hands. I once bought a car for less than the price of an XBox 360, and drove it for four years. I have a stereo that I bought the year after the Vietnam War ended. It still works fine. The funny thing is, this early-70s technology is asked to do the same thing my series of 360s was: Sit on a shelf and periodically be switched on and off. I don't use my 360 for a hammer, or as the ball in impromptu games of parking lot rugby, so I have to ask: WHAT THE HELL, MICROSOFT??!?
There are two possible reasons for this track record. The first is that Microsoft doesn't know how to make a working game console. That isn't a crime; I don't either. On the other hand, I don't go around bragging to everyone that I do. The alternative explanation is that this is carefully planned to occur right after the warranty expires. Now you have a big library of games (their reasoning must go), so you will have no choice but to replace the console. Well, I'm not doing it. I'm cutting my losses. If I buy again, I'm buying the Japanese system. See, in Japan, they have a Culture of Honor. If Sony were to gain an international reputation for selling disposable crap like the XBox, the CEO would have to commit suicide out of shame. Here in America, where we have the Culture of Greed, the CEO is only considered a failure if he can't make you buy multiple copies of whatever piece of sleazite he's selling. The motto of corporate America should be, "How much money can I bilk you out of today?" You've had a good run, Bill. I hope you've enjoyed it, 'cause you'll do the naked backstroke across a pool full of scorpions before you get another dime from me. It is literally true that you can't buy anything of quality in America anymore, no matter what you're willing to pay; it simply does not exist. How could it when CEOs making $48,000.00 an hour refuse to employ anyone who recognizes his own worth, and wants to be paid for it?
In other news, back in December, I alluded to a project that my friend, Chops, and I would be working on together. It was to be a parallel series of short stories set in a steampunk universe revolving around a journalist of his creation. His stories would feature this journalist as a mature crusader for truth, a serious force of nature. My stories would concern this same individual as a young man straight out of school, and acquiring the morals and mindset that led to the man Chops was dealing with. Excited about this new project, I completed the first draft of two sections of my first story, sent them along, and have not heard another word. There could be many reasons for this. Chops has a demanding job with a lot of travel, a hectic home life, and can get pretty busy. On the other hand, Lady Bonnie has a Facebook account which she visits to chat with Axeman multiple times a day. On this account, she constantly encounters Chops playing Facebook games, and raving about his real-world activities, so maybe time isn't the issue. I look at this and see our project occupying a very back burner. I suspect that he found discussing the project more interesting than actually doing it.
But, in yet another of the unexpected twists that seem to make up the fabric of life, it seems as though that may not have been for the worst. I have mentioned on several occasions, in my limitless hubris, that I have written five novels. The short story seemed to be a straightforward exercise, nothing more nor less than a single chapter of a novel brought to a full conclusion rather than a "hook." Oh, how deceptive art can be! Nothing could be further from the truth. The short story is, in reality, a 75,000 word novel condensed to 7,500. It may be beyond my ability to figure out; it is certainly beyond the skills I currently possess. Nonetheless, a series of short stories set in a steampunk universe is a project I have a wish to try, and so I shall. I am in the process of creating my own little corner of the world with its own problems, and characters who will try to solve them (or create more of them!). In its current form, it is placed in East Africa in the late 1800s, and should I be able to bring it to a successful inception, you will be able to find it here from time to time, under the working title, Beyond the Rails. So, will Chops embrace our project; will I finalize my own; or will I come to recognize that the art of the short story will forever be beyond me? I'll keep you posted, one way or another...
Finally, the music world lost a great voice and gifted innovator last week when Etta James finally succumbed to a long illness. She was an icon of jazz and blues, and a trailblazer to the modern sound that we mortals idolize today. She didn't have the most wonderful of lives, but she had a wonderful career, and her impact on the music will be felt for generations to come. Rest in peace, Etta, At Last...
In closing, be it known that I can't do it any more. Even acknowledging the existence of slimy-ass politicians makes me want to puke, so I'll close with the return of an old friend:
Get out there and live life like you mean it!