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Monday, October 01, 2018

Big Game Boxoffice Hunt

Paramount Pins Highest Hope On Hatari! (1962)

Five Shows Daily Make For Long Shifts at NYC's DeMille Theatre
There were three releases in waning days of the Studio Era that Paramount sales staff was high as a kite for: The Ten Commandments, Psycho, and Hatari!. For each they prepared a special insert for the pressbook called a “Care and Handling Manual,” which laid out four weeks of run-up to play dates with instructions on what to do each day. Hatari! had all of makings to be a massive hit. Some at Paramount thought it would approach The Ten Commandments for grossing. Had I been on promoting team prior to release, I might well have agreed based on remarkable footage of John Wayne and crew chasing exotic animals over African plains, such spectacle as was never caught by cameras before. The fact Hatari! did not make record-buster grade was attributed to several things, not least the fact of children being its most fascinated audience, but how many of them stayed still for 157 minutes the picture lasted? The length kept Hatari! to less showtimes in a day, another slap to revenue. Still, the best of it was the best movies could offer in 1962, a magical advance on action-staging to confirm Howard Hawks as ongoing leader in the field. What he did with still-conventional resource, operators doubting Hawks could bring off animal chase stuff, would give today’s CGI a race for conviction, difference being his effects were real and current tries are not.

Theatres brought wild animals to fronts and into lobbies. There were tie-ins with zoos and auto manufacturers that had supplied Hatari! with terrain vehicles. A strong soundtrack by Henry Mancini yielded instrumental hits to link with the film. Hawks saw new direction his music needed to head and so let go of Dimitri Tiomkin, whose peak had passed. The director approaching his mid-sixties kept an awareness of what a modern audience would want. His getting free reign to do Hatari! was reward for Rio Bravo going so well in 1959. The project called Africa was a Hawks sort of story which became an entirely other sort of story by the time cameras turned. It would seem, in fact, that there was no story at all, only a basic situation, characters as Hawks envisioned them, and exotic action through which a plotline could later be threaded. The director-producer had conceived Africa for two strong leads, Clark Gable with John Wayne possibly, but events cancelled that out, as well perhaps, for Gable always seemed to me to represent a generation other than Wayne’s, even though they were only six years apart in age, and had begun in movies at roughly a same time. Wayne had to carry Hatari! as sole prominent personality amidst relative unknowns, most Euro-derived. We warm to them on repeated views of Hatari!, but my impression from a first watch was that JW carried a lot of dead weight here, unlike in Rio Bravo where others brought gravitas from past hit movies and especially television.

Hawks had studied enough TV to realize that viewers no longer needed, in fact had no want, for structured stories. They were too distracted in any case to follow three disciplined acts, home watch being anything but disciplined. Maybe Hawks noted how his own old films were TV-diced into unrelated scenes that left viewers to guess what a yarn was all about. In the end it didn’t matter, for as Hawks well knew, they had seen all the old tropes fourscore times, so why fret with detail? The director-producer would henceforth opt for scenes that would please within loosest framework of relationships among people he enjoyed, and hoped we would. This is how his films relax and reward time and again like no one else’s. You know the highlights and are each time there to see them again. Even if there was a strong narrative, any novelty to that would have dissipated long ago, in event you were back to watch again. This is how Hawks parts from other filmmakers for me. I can drift from one pleasurable scene to a next, the goodies never more than a few minutes apart. Length doesn't matter, for who’s in a hurry for any good thing to end?

The half-dozen Hawks made from Rio Bravo to a finish of Rio Lobo were admittedly set to neutral, which makes them ideal for comfort watching. To note also is easy listening Hawks applied to all six: Tiomkin at much reduced bombast for Rio Bravo, Mancini for Hatari! and Man’s Favorite Sport, Nelson Riddle making music fun with Redline 7000 and El Dorado, and finally by Jerry Goldsmith and Rio Lobo. These films didn’t need dynamism in scoring --- in fact, that might have deterred joy in watching. Film history records that Hawks was “discovered” in the early 60’s by an emerging auteurist establishment. They must not have had awareness of films sold on his name since at least the early 40’s, when Howard Hawks was shorthand for crowd-pleasing entertainment. Trailers for virtually anything by Hawks would emphasize his past achievements, as he was a major merchandising element for output at least from Sergeant York onward.

Director-Producer Howard Hawks with John Wayne

Hawks also had a possessive credit above titles on posters for virtually all output long before most noticed such things. This was less to honor him than to assure customers there was an outstanding show inside. The MOMA series for Hawks in May 1962, a first in the US, was recognition by elite latecomers who discovered HH long after mainstream viewers knew him as guarantor of good times. This director had no need of validation from a critical establishment. He had got that from a mass public that expressed their approval with admissions bought. Afterlife beyond initial disappointment for Hatari! came with reissues through the 60’s, a first with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, then an encore with Hud. ABC got Hatari! for primetime broadcast on Sunday, 1-14-68. Hawks’ estate presumably still gets revenue from Hatari!, as he owned half the negative. Old films used to gather coin by being somewhere on television most of the time --- now they stream anywhere, any hour day or night, each time a ticket punched. Wish I could peek in Paramount ledgers to see what Hatari! generates in daily, or hourly, hits. From pay-per-view acorns must mighty oaks grow. I bet we’d be amazed at what Hatari! and others like it have accumulated as of digital-driven 2018.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Sat in my local theatre and watched HATARI when first released. As an eleven-year-old, I kept thinking how the picture would have been better had a loin-clad Gordon Scott appearance been included, keeping me from being so bored. Haven't seen HATARI since.

10:54 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

HATARI is an extraordinary example on how to make an entertaining movie with no plot; just an opening, enjoyable situations, and an ending. This film played constantly in the Saturday afternoon movie marathons being, in fact, a very suitable title for such form of classic movie consumption. Cable channels that have access to classic Paramount titles airs it constantly: in Latin America, it is frequently rotated in the Fox Classics movie channel.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

I wonder how much Trump loves these late '50s and beyond John Wayne-starred flicks?
The Duke was 55 and Elsa Martinelli was 27 when this was released. The length actually was a draw for this teenager, as I liked having "more" movie. "Baby Elephant Walk" was a tremdously successful offshoot of the film.
The Wolf, man.

1:49 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Never saw the movie, but knew "Baby Elephant Walk" because there were "easy listening" radio stations playing it -- and things like it -- all the time. There seemed to be a period after the fadeout of radio programs (drama, comedy, hosted variety) when a lot of airtime went to records that weren't pop singles: movie soundtracks, Broadway cast albums, comedy discs, "mood music", etc. By the late 60s I noticed that while such albums were readily available in stores and usually lying around everybody's living rooms, it was increasingly rare to hear them on the radio. While radio sold pop, these albums were sold by movie and television exposure.

4:25 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Red Buttons is extremely tiresome and devoid of charm.
The Invisible, man.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Glenn Erickson said...

It was 'Baby Elephant Walk' all the way. We'd stay up multiple times on Saturday night just to wait for the song, and to see Capucine wash the Dumbo ... Everything else was a blur. Today it plays nicely, very relaxing.

10:48 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

The old Hollywood convention of pairing two actors with a disparity in age does not much bother Stinky, given the context, the charisma and star-appeal of the actor, and since one day in the distant future Stinky will be 55, and he would love to be cast with a 27-year old Elsa Martinelli.

Better this than seeing, say, Robert Taylor paired with anyone at any age.

1:25 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This one looks great projected on a big screen at home or in the theater. The women add a lot to it, along with the music and scenery.

2:22 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Stinky, I don't disagree, but think of all the 40-year-old actresses at the time who were passed over being too old (admittedly, 40 then is today's 60). Hell, I'm really old and I'd like to be paired with Emma Stone but that doesn't make it a good thing for anybody but me. The Wolf, man.

11:06 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Hollywood was extremely unfair, but that is another argument. Would Hatari have been better with Joan Crawford? The only change on with Stinky would insist would be anyone besides Red Buttons.

It just seems that the movie fantasy of reality was so different back then, and Stinky is willing to make allowances. Contemporary movies, not so much.

Stinky is the first to admit he is very selfish, and his casting of Elsa Martinelli is strictly inside his head, and not for public consumption.

3:16 PM  
Blogger b piper said...

My brothers and I saw HATARI as kids, loved every minute of it, and Elsa Martinelli's pairing with John Wayne didn't seem odd at all (I mean, he was JOHN WAYNE.) But the idea of casting a 40ish actress is intriguing and might have brought a new dimension to the character. Hell, Honor Blackman was still two years away from doing GOLDFINGER, and she was good enough for James Bond!

7:10 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Honor Blackman at any age!

10:50 PM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

I always thought the TV show DAKTARI was based on HATARI but subsequent research says no. I can remember my Dad walking away from HATARI when it premiered on TV because it wasn't a western.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Phil Smoot said...

Would be great to see this film restored. Present home entertainment releases of Hatari look terrible.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Matthew Clark said...

Red Buttons' character in this film is called Pockets, because he appears to be the first person in a movie to wear cargo pants.
Truffaut wrote that Hatari is actually a film about movie making.
I have been following your look at late Howard Hawks films and it appears that again in this movie Hawks is having trouble with casting. You point out that in Rio Bravo, Hawks brings on singing star Rickie Nelson to fill out interest in this movie by appealing to the youth audience, which were becoming major attendees to theaters at the time. On paper, it looks like a strong cast appealing to both young and old. Middle aged audience members had grown up with John Wayne and Walter Brennan, and they had come of age when Dean Martin had teamed with Jerry Lewis. And now, their kids were fans of Rickie Nelson. Unfortunately, Nelson may have appeared on television but he wasn't an actor. Compare Nelson stiff, self conscious performance in this movie to James Caan's in El Dorado. This forces Hawks to cut back on Nelson's screen time in Rio Bravo and the need to fill out the running time by padding the movie out with more scenes with Angie Dickinson and Gonsalus Gonsalus. Which means that for Wayne and Martin to be in scenes with these two characters they have to go back and forth between two locations, the jailhouse and the hotel, which weakens the film's structure. Part of what makes Hawks' earlier film To Have and Have Not work so well is that most of that film is set within the hotel Bogart is living in. Rio Bravo appears to be planned with a similar structure with the characters now barricaded inside the jailhouse. But, Nelson's poor performance forces the film to seek out others outside of the main group, who are not barricaded in the jailhouse, so as not to annoy the audience with someone who can't act. In Hatari, it is the opposite problem, instead of having to work around someone who can't act, we have a hole in the movie left by not having someone whose main purpose is to act opposite John Wayne.
You mention how Hawks had wanted to have Clark Gable in this movie, who had died just before this, and it appears that there was either no effort made or no time to find a replacement and they just had to go off to Africa without any real costar. In hindsight we could imagine Ben Johnson or Randolph Scott in this movie? But I'm thinking that here we're seeing some of the limitations of film production in the early sixties that Hawks now had to deal with. When Hawks was connected to the studios, ten years earlier, there would have been the facility to have either an older or younger leading man, probably under contract to the studio, who could have been placed in the role. But now, Hawks is pretty much on his own devices and is unable or just unwilling to fill out his cast before going out on location? He's still able to work around not having a costar, probably due to the presence of screen writer Leigh Brackett? The character of Brandy is the daughter of Wayne's pardner, who has died. Wayne's character talks of her as if she is his own daughter. The dead pardner could have been the role Gable was going to play? In the end, Hatari is in no way an annoying film, but it is still a little slow and aimless in parts.
Compare this film to The Thing From Another World, which Hawks is supposed to been just the producer, but by all accounts he was the director. Even though the cast is unknown there is never a dull moment in The Thing. The dialogue scenes are almost as tense as the action. Not so in Hatari. So, I'm wondering how much the change in the studio business affected the old guard directors like Hawks and Hitchcock, who no longer had the resources of the old studio system by the 1960s? And is this responsible for the shortcomings in Hatari? I find El Dorado a more entertaining film, so maybe Hawks had adapted to the business better by the time he made his next western?

6:41 PM  

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