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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Vintage Pulp Sep 23 2022
MO WOMEN, MO PROBLEMS
Mogambo features the cruelest beast in all of Africa—and its name is Clark Gable.


As famous as Mogambo is, we'd never seen it, had never read a review of it, and had no idea going in what it was about except that it was a safari movie and a remake of the 1932 adventure Red Dust, which we'd also never seen. There are few hit movies—especially with stars the stature of Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly—that we don't know at least a little something about. So we cleared the slate, cooked up some popcorn in our special Lindy's hand-cranked popper, and settled in for a screening.

Shot in Kenya, Uganda, French Equatorial Africa (now Central African Republic), and the Tanganyika region of what is now Democratic Republic of Congo, the movie is about a hard-edged safari guide and hunter played by Gable (also the star of Red Dust, by the way) who tries to score with both Gardner and Kelly, and soon has them at each other's throats. These old movies often work on the presumption that the male star is irresistible—period. As a result, screenwriters were sometimes lazy. They'd fail to write the male lead with any charm at all.

That holds true here, as Gable is gruff, rude, twenty years older than Gardner, and almost thirty years older than Kelly. We're fine about the age difference, unlike the “age appropriate” crowd that thinks women are capable of making any decision except ones about whom they love, but because Grant is a complete sourdough some charm would have made Gardner's and Kelly's attraction to him more understandable. Handsome though he may be, here he's nothing more than moustache, hair tonic, and bossiness. But okay, Gardner and Kelly are both in states of need, and Gable is more than happy to introduce them to his bush snake, so what you get is a love triangle folded inside a Technicolor safari adventure. Fine.

The production is spiced up with majestic scenery, nice costumes, realistic animal footage, an overwhelming feel of the exotic, the tantalizing implication of intimacy with two of the most beautiful women in cinema, and a deft, assured performance from Gardner. In fact, while Gable is top billed, Ava gets nearly all the good lines. “Listen, buster,” she scolds Clark, “you and your quick-change acts aren't gonna hang orange blossoms all over me just because you feel the cold weather coming on!” That's a scathing way to call someone old and desperate. But Gable has his moments too. We liked when he blustered, “You know how it is on safari. It's in all the books. The woman always falls for the white hunter and we guys make the most of it.” That's meta, so we hear.

Obviously, tribespeople figure prominently, and you can discern marginal improvement in their portrayal since the days of Weissmuller's Tarzan. They're still just ornamentation in their own lands, but at least none lay down their lives to save a white man who's spent most of his screen time cracking a whip at them. Whew. Overall, we thought Mogambo was decent. Not great, mind you—because Gable deserved to play a more nuanced character and did not have that chance—but it was decent. It premiered today in 1953.
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
June 20
1967—Muhammad Ali Sentenced for Draft Evasion
Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who was known as Cassius Clay before his conversion to Islam, is sentenced to five years in prison for refusing to serve in the military during the Vietnam War. In elucidating his opposition to serving, he uttered the now-famous phrase, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”
June 19
1953—The Rosenbergs Are Executed
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted for conspiracy to commit espionage related to passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet spies, are executed at Sing Sing prison, in New York.
June 18
1928—Earhart Crosses Atlantic Ocean
American aviator Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly in an aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean, riding as a passenger in a plane piloted by Wilmer Stutz and maintained by Lou Gordon. Earhart would four years later go on to complete a trans-Atlantic flight as a pilot, leaving from Newfoundland and landing in Ireland, accomplishing the feat solo without a co-pilot or mechanic.
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