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John Wayne’s never-ending war against nature moves to Africa – Hatari!

May 28, 2013


It wasn’t long ago we looked at an issue of John Wayne’s eponymous Golden Age comic book, where the cover presented him as nothing less than a bare-chested, harpoon-wielding, whale-hating Ahab. From hell’s heart, I stab at thee…. Nothing so violent or mean here. No, Hatari! is one of Mr. Wayne’s more light-hearted romps, a Howard Hawks-directed affair that spawned the gentle “Baby Elephant Walk” theme (composed by none other than Henry Mancini). It’s an okay movie, and it had an okay comic. 

Hatari! starred Wayne as a big-game hunter, one not engaged in mindless slaughter, but in the procurement of live animals for zoo exhibits. We can debate the rights and wrongs of caging wild animals until we’re blue in the face, but at least there’s no bloodshed here — unlike Teddy Roosevelt mercy-killing lion cubs while on safari. One of the great selling points of the movie was a series of compelling sequences that saw Wayne and his team of wranglers darting across the African veld in jeeps. The cameras were strapped to the vehicles so you felt that you were right there with them, an innovation quite daring for the film’s 1962 release date. Remember the dino-chasing in the Jurassic Park sequel? Spielberg didn’t have anything on Hawks, at least in this instance. These scenes almost made you forget the film’s generic, somewhat icky love story, which once again saw Wayne wooing a woman young enough to be his daughter (hell, maybe granddaughter at that point).

As for the comic adaptation, the Sam Glanzman art is superb (far outdoing his output in Kona and the dreadful Charlton Hercules book), especially the animal work. I like Wayne. I love giraffes, the gracefully awkward behemoths of the animal kingdom. Here are both, locked in non-lethal pursuit:


Enjoy the rest of your life living on concrete, giraffe!

You want sweeping romance? Thrill as the deeply lined face and broad shoulders of John Wayne seduce a young lass:


The film’s climax saw Wayne’s young love, Dallas, about to leave Africa, under the misapprehension that he didn’t really love her. She had spent much of her time on that continent raising the famous Mancini-themed elephants, and they’re the ones that are sent to bring her home. Much gentle, old-timey wackiness ensues:


When I was in grade school I took up the saxophone, and one of the first simple, little tunes that my instructor guided me through (either before or after Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” I can’t remember) was “Baby Elephant Walk.” For years and years I wondered what the hell this song was all about — where the baby elephants were walking to, etc. — until one lazy day I heard it pumping out of the TV. Hatari! was coming up on one of the 10,000 cable movie channels, and one of life’s nagging minor mysteries was finally solved. I relay this dull story for no other reason than it’s tangentially related to the film and, hence, the comic, and this will probably the first and last time it ever gets an airing.

Thank you for your time and attention. As you were.

Anyway, Hatari! is by no means a bad watch, and you could do worse — much worse — than the comic.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2013 1:43 pm

    Spielburg stated in the press that the TRex jeep chasing scene, where it smacked the side of the jeep with its head, was influenced directly from Hatari.

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