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Original movie poster by Frank McCarthy
Directed byHoward Hawks
Screenplay byLeigh Brackett
Story byHarry Kurnitz
Produced byHoward Hawks
Paul Helmick (associate)
StarringJohn Wayne
Hardy Krüger
Elsa Martinelli
Red Buttons
CinematographyRussell Harlan
Edited byStuart Gilmore
Music byHenry Mancini
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 19, 1962 (1962-06-19)
Running time
157 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$12,923,077[1]

Hatari! (pronounced [hɑtɑri], Swahili for "Danger!") is a 1962 American adventure romantic comedy film directed by Howard Hawks that stars John Wayne as the leader of a group of professional game catchers in Africa.[2] It was shot in Technicolor and filmed on location in northern Tanganyika (in what is now Tanzania). The film includes dramatic wildlife chases and the scenic backdrop of Mount Meru, a dormant volcano.

At the 35th Academy Awards, Russell Harlan was nominated for Best Color Cinematography for his work on Hatari!, but the award went to Fred A. Young for his work on Lawrence of Arabia.


In Tanganyika in the 1950s, the Momella Game Company captures animals for zoos and circuses using off-road vehicles, lassos, and cages. The company consists of Frenchwoman Brandy de la Court, the unofficial "boss"; tough Irish-American Sean Mercer, who heads the catching expeditions; retired German race car driver Kurt Müller; Mexican Bullfighter Luis Francisco Garcia Lopez; Native American sharpshooter Little Wolf (aka "The Indian"); former NYC cabbie "Pockets", who has zoophobia; and several native staff.

While pursuing an aggressive rhinoceros, Kurt and The Indian ride in a small herding car, which they use to force the animal toward a larger catching truck. The rhino gores The Indian in the leg, and the crew makes the five hour journey to Arusha hospital. French marksman Charles "Chips" Maurey arrives, eager to take the Indian's place in the crew, but Kurt, offended, punches him. Chips later turns out to be the only one present with the blood type required to save the Indian's life; he agrees to undergo a transfusion, and Sean offers him a job.

Back at their compound, the crew finds Italian photographer Anna-Maria "Dallas" D'Alessandro, who has been corresponding with the Indian. They are surprised to learn that "A.M. D'Alessandro" is a woman, but she shows them a letter saying she has been sent by the Basel zoo, which is Momella's biggest client, so Sean reluctantly lets her accompany the crew as they capture a giraffe. Despite many rookie embarrassments, Dallas enjoys her first day. She later offers to leave if she is not wanted, but all but Sean vote to have her stay.

Chips arrives at the compound; after a rifle-shooting contest, he and Kurt become friends. As time goes on, Dallas and Sean begin to develop feelings for one another, though Sean, having previously been jilted by his fiancée, resists. Brandy is pursued by three suitors—Kurt, Chips, and Pockets. The Indian, still shaken by his experience, is released from the hospital, and Sean agrees to not pursue any more rhinos until the end of the season.

On a multi-day trip, the crew passes through a village where a rogue female elephant has been killed by a game warden. They find her orphaned calf, and Dallas adopts it despite Sean's protests. Chaos ensues when the rest of the crew helps Dallas gather goats to get milk for the calf, though they eventually succeed. That night, Dallas apologizes to Sean, and finally seduces him into giving her a kiss, though Pockets inadvertently interrupts and ruins the moment.

Later, Dallas finds another orphaned elephant calf. The local waArusha tribe, impressed by how the elephants follow Dallas, arrange a ceremony for her, adopting her into the tribe and naming her "Mama Tembo" ("Mother of Elephants"). Dallas' new title is confirmed when a third elephant calf makes its way to the compound.

The crew capture a zebra, an oryx, a gazelle, a leopard, and a buffalo without incident, but, while pursuing wildebeests, the herding car blows a tire. In the ensuing accident, Kurt's shoulder is dislocated and Chips' leg is badly sprained. The same day, Pockets falls off of a tall fence. He only bruises himself, but Brandy shows the most concern for him out of the three, indicating which suitor she has chosen.

Pockets devises a way to catch a huge vervet monkey troop all at once by using a rocket to cover a whole tree with a fishing net. To the surprise of everyone, including himself, he succeeds, which makes a rhino the only animal left to catch. The crew finds an angry bull rhino, and, although it manages to get loose once, they finally capture it without anyone getting hurt, much to The Indian's relief.

The season's work done, Dallas begins to fear Sean will always see her as he saw his treacherous fiancée, so she writes a goodbye letter and flees. Sean, with the help of the rest of the crew and the three baby elephants, tracks her to Arusha, and they reconcile. Sean and Dallas are married, and prepare to spend their wedding night in Sean's room; however, the three elephants barge in and destroy the bed.



Hatari! is bookended by the two attempts to capture a rhinoceros, but it otherwise has a very loose script and, like many other works by Howard Hawks, is principally structured around the relationships among the characters. At the start of production, all Hawks knew was that he wanted to make a movie about people who catch animals in Africa for zoos, which he saw as a dangerous profession that would allow for exciting scenes, the likes of which had never been seen on-screen before.[2] Much of the script was written by Hawks' favorite writer, Leigh Brackett, after the production returned from Africa with footage of the characters catching various animals.

Hawks increased his knowledge of animal-catching by studying the work of the famous South African animal conservationist Dr. Ian Player. In 1952, South Africa was eliminating large wild animals to protect livestock, and only 300 white rhinos survived. Player then invented his famed rhino catching technique to relocate and save the white rhinos. His project was called "Operation Rhino", and it was recorded in the renowned documentary film of the same name.[3][4]

Another source of inspiration for Hawks was the famous animal photographer Ylla, so he had Brackett add the character of Dallas to the script. Hawks said, "We took that part of the story from a real character, a German girl. She was the best animal photographer in the world."[3][5][6][7][8]

Hawks stated in interviews that he had originally planned to star both Clark Gable and Wayne in the film until Gable's death finally ruled that out.

Much of the film revolves around scenes of the cast chasing animals in jeeps and trucks across the plains of East Africa. Ngorongoro farm, owned by Hardy Kruger from 1960 to 1973, served as the movie's setting. The animals pursued are all live, wild, and untrained. Capturing animals by chasing them down is banned today due to concerns of exhausting and killing the targeted animals. There is also the fact that, owing to the development of reliable animal tranquilizers and powerful dart guns in the decades since Hatari! was filmed, it is no longer necessary to lasso animals to capture them.

According to director Howard Hawks, all of the animal captures in the film were performed by the actors themselves—not by stuntmen or animal handlers (although a stand-in, Mildred Lucy "Rusty" Walkley, was used for some scenes involving Elsa Martinelli's character[9]). When Hawks interviewed de Vargas, he said production would be very dangerous, as there would be no double, and showed de Vargas a documentary.[10] Government-licensed animal catcher Willy de Beer was hired by Hawks as a technical adviser, and he and his assistants worked with the actors on how to go about catching the animals.[11] During filming, the rhino really did escape and the actors had to recapture it, which Hawks included in the completed film for its realism.

Much of the audio in the capture sequences had to be re-dubbed due to John Wayne's cursing while wrestling with the animals, and Hawks said Wayne admitted being scared during some of the action scenes, particularly those in which he is sitting in the exposed "catching seat" as a truck hurtles over terrain full of hidden holes and obstacles. According to Hawks, Wayne "had the feeling with every swerve that the car was going to overturn as he hung on for dear life, out in the open with only a seat belt for support, motor roaring, body jarring every which-way, animals kicking dirt and rocks and the thunder of hundreds of hooves increasing the din in his ears."[12] On the other hand, one evening, while Buttons and Wayne were playing cards outside, a leopard came out of the bush towards them, but, when Buttons mentioned the approaching leopard, Wayne reportedly simply said, "See what he wants."[13]

Filming in Africa was not only dangerous for the actors, however. De Vargas said de Beer was mauled by a loose baby leopard that sprang on him from a tree, and "came back with his arm covered in bandages and throat completely wrapped, but he just shrugged it off."[14]

As the animals frequently refused to make noise "on cue" (in particular, the baby elephants refused to trumpet inside populated areas), local Arusha game experts and zoo collectors were hired to do "animal voice impersonations" for the film.

Michèle Girardon spoke no English when she was cast and, according to a July 1961 LIFE magazine profile of the actress, she taught herself English while on the set.[15]

John Wayne wore a belt with his famous "Red River D" buckle on it, as he did in many of his movies. It can be clearly seen in the scene where Sean Mercer radios "Arusha Control" after The Indian is gored by the rhino at the start of the film, and again in the scene where Sonja (the cheetah) wanders into the bathroom while Dallas is bathing and introduces herself by licking Dallas and purring.

The memorable Henry Mancini tune "Baby Elephant Walk" was written for and first appeared in Hatari!.[16] Another memorable musical moment from the film is a duet of Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home" (aka "Swanee River"), with Dallas on piano and Pockets on harmonica.


Hatari! grossed $12,923,077 at the box office,[1] $7 million of which came from U.S. theatrical rentals.[17] It was the 7th highest-grossing film of 1962.

Jean-Luc Godard listed Hatari! as one of the best films of its year of release.[18]

The film was recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


Michael Milner adapted Leigh Brackett's screenplay for the film into a paperback novel published by Pocket Books in 1962 as a tie-in to the movie. The cover of the novel features the movie poster of the rhino attacking the catching truck. The novel goes into more detail about some aspects of the animal-catching, particularly Pockets' rocket-net project, as well as about the pursuit of Brandy by Kurt, Chips, and Pockets. The book is a bit edgier than the film, but it is a fast read and faithful to the movie. The novel's ASIN number is B000BJUQP4.[20]

Comic book adaption

See also


  1. ^ a b Box Office Information for Hatari! The Numbers. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  2. ^ a b McCarthy, Todd. Howard Hawks: the grey fox of Hollywood, New York, Grove Press, 1997, pg 572, ISBN 0802115985
  3. ^ a b McIntyre, Thomas. "Fifty Years of HATARI! – The Story of Most Expensive Safari In the World." Sports Afield, May/June 2012, pg 70
  4. ^ McCarthy, pg 575
  5. ^ Joseph McBride (writer), Hawks on Hawks University of California Press, 1982, ISBN 0-520-04344-8, pg 143
  6. ^ Peter Bogdanovich, The Cinema of Howard Hawks, Museum of Modern Art-Doubleday, 1962
  7. ^ Scott Breivold, Peter Bogdanovich interviewer, Howard Hawks: interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2006, ISBN 1-57806-832-0, pg. 38
  8. ^ McCarthy, pg 573
  9. ^ Australian Woman's Weekly December 5, 1962
  10. ^ McCarthy, pg 577
  11. ^ Stanley, Frank. "Hatari." International Photographer: The Magazine of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, September 1961, Vol 33 No 9, pg 181
  12. ^ McCarthy, pg 582
  13. ^ McIntyre, pg 73
  14. ^ McCarthy, pg 579
  15. ^ LIFE. Time Inc. 21 July 1961. p. 80. ISSN 0024-3019. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  16. ^ Henry Mancini interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  17. ^ "All-time top film grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964, pg 37.
  18. ^ "Jean-Luc Godard, Cahiers du Cinema Top 10's, 1956-1965". Retrieved 2019-04-14.
  19. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  20. ^ Hatari!. Pocket Books. January 1962.
  21. ^  Dell Movie Classic: Hatari! at the Grand Comics Database
  22. ^ Dell Movie Classic: Hatari! at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)

External links

This page was last edited on 10 January 2022, at 12:14
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