When considering the 1962 wildlife adventure “Hatari!”, it often appears as though director Howard Hawks has created the world’s first feature-length music video (discounting Disney’s “Fantasia” as having grander artistic aspirations) as throughout the structureless rambling series of incidents which vaguely suggest a plot hidden within Leigh Brackett’s screenplay there are extensive sequences which seem to exist for no other purpose than to afford an illustrative cover to Henry Mancini’s inventive percussion heavy scoring. (For instance, the lengthy ostrich scene could be excised without notice since it’s seemingly inconsequential insertion in the film is obtrusively awkward, to say the least.) Were one to remove the scoring track, it is apparent that the film is filled with an excessive amount of extraneous footage: it’s as if the production became so relaxed that on-set home movie reels were interpolated into the narrative.
“Hatari!” presents a man’s world as a true boy’s club with all of the adolescent level treehouse camaraderie that the title implies. Women are seen as a romantic prize, but less as a result of a male-driven game of direct pursuit than in the clever usurping of such the rules of such a competitive contest by women themselves. For all intents and purposes, “Hatari!” might best be enjoyed as a comedy between the sexes, not a literal war between the genders- the film is far too gentle in its relationship salvos to be accused of anything more than an extension of the familiar male/female dynamic of the screwball comedy of which Hawks’s films in the genre were instrumental in laying the elemental behavioral foundations. In Hawks’ film universe, men have often been portrayed as boobs and nitwits when it comes to a competent campaign for a woman’s attention (a far less dire- and more playful -arena than that as often portrayed in director John Huston’s cinema in which the men are often undone by their weakness for women) and there is little difference in the men of “Hatari!” who may be expert in capturing the most dangerous and elusive of wildlife, but not women, who always seem to have the advantage over their male counterparts by virtue of a certain crafty patience in waiting out their “prey”, similar to the demonstrated method of wearing down a rhino before capture. If, indeed, there is in Hawks’ film a depicted war between men and women, it is far more identifiable as a prolonged bout of mental foreplay; the men are appreciably notable as being the clueless animal on the veldt, while the women are highly conscious of their siren-like lure over the male breed. “Hatari!” is notable as a consciously balanced fusion of Hawks’ action/adventure sensibility and that of the great screwball director (which in its own genre definition implies a similarly precarious sense of sexual adventurism), whose own examples featured innumerable “hunts” and entrapments, though more along romantically biological lines than zoological. (Though the result is amusingly similar, the captured in both cases looking dumbfounded.) Much of the same tone and playful sexual balance was also apparent in his overrated “Rio Bravo”, but the mechanics of the ramshackle plot tended to continuously intrude upon the interesting interplay between John Wayne’s Sheriff John T. Chance and Angie Dickinson’s saloon girl Feathers insofar that in that film the narrative balance was founded along an exploration of more overtly traditional exhibitions of impregnable movie masculinity (reportedly a belated and misguided answer to Hawks’ and Wayne’s violently negative reaction to “High Noon”, whose Marshal they found both cowardly and un-Anerican, though the resultant 1959 film cheats on a number of points in its own confrontational schism by arming the film’s Sheriff with a band of skilled confederates), whereas in “Hatari!” the focus leans more to the side of the slight immaturity commensurate with competitive fraternal bonding; in as much as “Hatari!” engages the characters in a constant (though, significantly, occassionally prompted by the female) pursuit of women, the rougher side of the drinking, brawling end of machismo scale (as seen John Ford’s comparatively lesser “Donovan’s Reef”) is surprisingly modulated with a shyly disarming sense of innocent sentimentality.
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