Vintage Pulp Feb 3 2024
ROUGH TRADER
The movie is a Horn of plenty—of sticky historical issues.


Trader Horn is an Academy Award nominated movie adapted from the real life African adventures of the explorer Alfred Aloysius “Trader” Horn, and as a major production has many high quality posters. The one above is our favorite, but all the promos are impressive, as you'll see when we share some a little later. Trader Horn is an archetypal white goddess movie—which is to say, a group of intrepid adventurers encounter a white woman reigning over an African tribe. Obviously, Hollywood took a bit of creative license with Horn's biographical writings. At least, we assume so. Harry Carey plays Horn, an old hand on the Dark Continent, whose aplomb in the face of danger is nothing short of Richard B. Riddickesque: “The good Lord only gives us one death to die and a fellow musn't bungle it.”

On the other side of the emotional spectrum is the white goddess, played with pre-Hays Code abandon by a half-clad Edwina Booth. The central thrust of the plot is Horn's efforts to return Booth to the modern world. That's standard for the white goddess sub-genre. What isn't standard is Trader Horn's location shooting in the places known back then as the Terrritory of Tanganyika, the Protectorate of Uganda, Kenya ColonyAnglo-Egyptian Sudan, and the Belgian Congo. The expenduture must have been enormous, but the money shows—vividly. You won't be surprised to learn that people died making the film—one by being consumed by a crocodile, and the other by being trampled by a rhino. There were also numerous illnesses and accidents. And... it was all worth it! Just kidding. Thoughts and prayers.

We don't have to get into specifics on the movie's plot. There isn't much of one. It's more of a narrated travelogue than a linear story. Even so, it's a massive production well worth seeing. Obviously, old movies usually have their issues, none more so than old movies set in Africa. But if you go in with the right attitude they can be fun. For example, anytime a white character says something about how savage Africans are, just add to the end of the line of dialogue something like: “Says the guy from the race that invented flame throwers and the electric chair.” Also, take a drink (optional). The subsequent occasion an awful generalization is made about Africans, come up with two more horribly savage things whites invented. You'll never run out. Best pair from our screening: “Says the guy from the race that invented the Spanish Donkey and pension clawbacks.”

Look, here's the thing—it can be a good idea to keep it light when it comes to ninety-year-old movies that touch on race, sort of the way it can be a good idea to laugh it off when your grandfather tells you that during his miliary service he once went to Tokyo on shore leave and found the Japanese to be, “an inscrutable little people.” You can't change him, so you save your valuable anger for when you'll really need it, like when you go to Florida, where racism officially doesn't exist. In Trader Horn's defense, it may have been—like your grandpa—fairly liberal for the period. Kenyan castmember and Masai chieftain Mutia Omoolu gets at least a dozen lines of dialogue. We bet he didn't get paid union scale, though. Actually, the SAG didn't exist until 1933, but you get the point. Omoolu and fellow Kenyan performer Riano Tindama did, however, earn a trip to L.A. for reshoots, an event that occasioned some sensationalistic press coverage of a predictable nature.

We've wandered far afield. Let's crank this careening post back onto the main roadway and ask: Is Trader Horn a good movie? Owing to its age, we obviously wouldn't go that far. But it's a tremendous spectacle, and serious film buffs should see it. The idea that actors were out there on the veldt shooting this stuff instead of in front of a green screen emoting opposite a volleyball on a stick is amazing. But that type of unfiltered filmmaking is possibly gone for good. For one thing it costs a fortune. And generally, the arc of cultural development tends toward more safety, whether physically, mentally, professionally, or whatever. Beyond a doubt, certain things are lost along the way. Visceral cinematic realism comes to mind. But on the other hand, it's good for people not to be eaten by reptiles or contract schistosomiasis. Watch the movie and see what you think. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1931.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 20
1944—Hitler Survives Third Assassination Attempt
Adolf Hitler escapes death after a bomb explodes at his headquarters in Rastenberg, East Prussia. A senior officer, Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, is blamed for planting the device at a meeting between Hitler and other senior staff members. Hitler sustains minor burns and a concussion but manages to keep an appointment later in the day with Italian leader Benito Mussolini.
July 19
1966—Sinatra Marries Farrow
Superstar singer and actor Frank Sinatra marries 21-year-old actress Mia Farrow, who is 30 years younger than him. The marriage lasts two years.
July 18
1925—Mein Kampf Published
While serving time in prison for his role in a failed coup, Adolf Hitler dictaes and publishes volume 1 of his manifesto Mein Kampf (in English My Struggle or My Battle), the book that outlines his theories of racial purity, his belief in a Jewish conspiracy to control the world, and his plans to lead Germany to militarily acquire more land at the expense of Russia via eastward expansion.
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