Friday, February 4, 2011

1930/31 - Trader Horn

The first few shows of Aussie Improv Comedy Explosion are under our collective belt and word is spreading of our improvised insanity. On stage this week, I have drowned on a water-slide, sung about gum-scrapers and confessed to stealing a cat with Lindsay Lohan. What happens in Vegas...

We've reached the end of the current crop of nominees so make sure to get your vote in for the next year of review. The poll is over there on the right hand side of the screen.

Last night, I caught the final nominee from the 1930/31 Best Picture race...

Trader Horn
W.S. Van Dyke
Dale Van Every, John Thomas Neville, Richard Schayer, Cyril Hume
(based on the book by Ethelreda Lewis and Alfred Aloysius Horn)
Harry Carey, Edwina Booth, Duncan Renaldo, Mutia Omoolu, Olive Golden
Academy Awards:
1 nomination
0 wins

In Africa, we meet a man who calls himself Trader Horn (Carey), presumably because he is in the business of trading elephant ivory. He and his companion Peru (Renaldo) along with a native guide they call Ranchero (Omoolu) run into missionary Edith Trent (Golden) who is searching for her long-lost daughter Nina (Booth), captured by a local tribe years ago. When Mrs. Trent is killed, Horn and company continue the search encountering perilous wildlife and unfriendly natives.

Classifying Trader Horn as an adventure film seems the most appropriate, yet perhaps one could argue another way. Despite its renown for being the first fictional film to be shot on location in Africa, at times it plays out like a nature documentary. Several sections of the narrative see Horn pointing out various species of African wildlife and offering his travelling partner a brief description of the animals' behaviour. We also witness Horn interact with the local tribesmen, all played by actual African natives.

Since many of these scenes are gratuitous, offering little in the way of moving the plot forward, one wonders why they didn't just make a documentary. However, the images captured are indeed fascinating. Seeing all these animals in their natural habitat is often spectacular, especially when we witness displays of aggression. Had the American Humane Association had their Film & TV Unit in operation at the time, no doubt they would have had a field day with the scenes in which hunters shoot rhinos or throw spears at lions.

The picture occasionally expounds some racist ideas, which is unfortunate. I suppose that's what you get when you base your story on the life of a 19th century white ivory trader. Nonetheless, there are a few tense moments within the drama, specifically when our heroes are suddenly tied upside-down by the natives. Although, they are released almost immediately so the tension passes quickly.

Like East Lynne from the same year, Trader Horn managed to secure a Best Picture nomination without receiving a single other nod. Clearly, the safari spectacle was enough for voters to push it over the line. The cast, led by Harry Carey as the intrepid adventurer, are mostly melodramatic, not an uncommon occurrence for pictures of this era.

1 comment:

  1. What a unique picture. I agree that a documentary may have been more appropriate. Actually, a documentary of the making of Trader Horn would be better yet. Apparently, the director and some crew members came down with malaria. Edwina Booth was hospitalized for six months with some sort of sleeping sickness tropical disease. She never made another movie, and ended up suing MGM. Add to that, the on camera shot of a native extra being run over and killed by a charging rhino and another eaten by an alligator.

    The storyline of the film is pretty corny - a silly love subplot that two years later worked much better between damsel and the ape in King Kong. I also wondered if the screenwriter was from Scotland. Harry Carey continually referred to his costars as lad and lass.

    These early talkies are proving to be more interesting that I would have suspected.