Selling Trader Horn Before and After The Code
Those spicy pre-code pictures we enjoy so much never existed in a vacuum. They were pushed out there with some of the raciest advertising this side of a burlesque house, as this original 1931 ad for Trader Horn will attest. The premiere at Graumann’s Chinese must been a stunner, with the outer lobby redressed as an African trading post, and Wallace Beery serving as master of ceremonies on opening night. The publicity said "Two Years in the Making", and the claim was nearly accurate, as location shooting on the dark continent had actually commenced in the Spring of 1929. Native chiefs who’d appeared in the feature were on hand to greet patrons, and the mob outside far exceeded the theatre’s capacity to seat them. Business was fantastic. Against a budget of 1.3 million (their biggest outlay since The Trail Of ’98), Metro brought back domestic rentals of 1.6 million, with 1.9 more from foreign markets, for a worldwide total of 3.5 million. Final profit for the initial release was a bullish $937,000. Re-issue proceeds were outstanding as well --- $188,000 more in the till for a 1937 encore. Even better was an aggressively sold 1953 campaign wherein Trader Horn roared back into theatres to grab another $350,000 domestic, $63,000 foreign, and an eventual $248,000 in profit (distribution fees, plus prints and advertising, had to be deducted from the worldwide $413,000). Very few pictures of this vintage could have played so successfully in 50’s theatres.
Note Edwina Booth’s nudity in the original ad (not that I need to point it out). This was prior to the enforcement of the Production Code, and though there were occasional complaints from editors over salacious movie advertising, most newspapers agreed with exhibitors that arresting images such as this were what brought folks up to the ticket window. By 1953, when Trader Horn was re-issued, things were very different. There was considerably more decorum in the presentation of Edwina Booth on the three-sheet shown here, and in fact, Metro had more or less replaced all of the original art.