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original movie poster by Frank McCarthy
Directed by Howard Hawks
Produced by Howard Hawks
Paul Helmick
Screenplay by Leigh Brackett
Story by Harry Kurnitz
Starring John Wayne
Elsa Martinelli
Hardy Krüger
Red Buttons
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Russell Harlan
Edited by Stuart Gilmore
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • October 6, 1961 (1961-10-06)
Running time
157 min
Country United States
Language English
Box office $12,923,077[1]

Hatari! (pronounced [hɑtɑri], Swahili for "Danger!") is a 1962 American action/adventure romantic drama film directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne. Portraying a group of professional animal catchers in Africa working for zoos,[2] the film includes dramatic wildlife chases and the magnificent backdrop scenery of Mount Meru, a dormant volcano.

Hatari! was shot in Technicolor and filmed on location in northern Tanganyika (in what is now Tanzania).

The film gathers its several characters from different parts of the world: Sean Mercer (John Wayne, USA), Pockets (Red Buttons, USA), Anna Maria 'Dallas' D'Alessandro (Elsa Martinelli, Italy), Kurt Müller (Hardy Krüger, Germany), Brandy De la Court (Michele Girardon, France), Charles 'Chips' Maurey (Gerard Blain, France), Luis Francisco Garcia Lopez (Valentin de Vargas, Mexican American).


The story involves a group of Western expatriates catching wild animals in East Africa and selling them to zoos, led by Sean Mercer (John Wayne).

At the outset, Little Wolf (Bruce Cabot), aka "The Indian", is injured during a rhinoceros chase. He is rushed to the hospital at Arusha, where he needs a blood transfusion. None of the team can provide the required rare blood type, but a young Frenchman, Charles "Chips" Maury (Gerard Blain) can. Chips is hired as a replacement for The Indian as the international group tries to fill all its animal orders for the season.

A wildlife photographer, Anna Maria D'Alessandro (Elsa Martinelli), arrives to take photos of the animals caught by Mercer's men for a zoo that will be buying the bulk of that season's captures. She is at first mistaken for a man because of the introduction letter she had signed with only her initials. She soon acquires the nickname "Dallas".

During her stay, Dallas also becomes known as Mama Timbo (Mother of Elephants) for her efforts to save three baby elephants, culminating in a chase through the streets of Arusha. She also develops a crush on Mercer. There are romantic subplots between the other characters as well.



Hatari! has a very loose script and, like many other major works of Hawks, is principally structured on the relationships among the characters, though it is "bookended" by the initial violent (and nearly fatal) encounter with a rhinoceros and the end-of-season determination to make such a capture to fulfill the team's quota. Much of the film revolves around scenes of chasing animals in jeeps and trucks across the African plains. The animals pursued are also all live, wild, and untrained, a procedure banned today over concerns of exhausting and killing the targeted animals. The script was written by Hawks' favorite writer, Leigh Brackett, after the group returned from Africa with the catching scenes.

At the beginning of the production, all Hawks knew was that he wanted a movie about people who catch animals in Africa for zoos, a dangerous profession with exciting scenes the likes of which had never been seen on-screen before.[3]

Hawks increased his knowledge on animal catching from the work of the famous South African animal conservationist, Dr. Ian Player. In 1952 South Africa was disastrously embarked to eliminate all large wild animals to protect livestock, and only 300 white rhinos survived. Player then started his famed rhino catching technique to relocate and save the white rhinos. Player's humane project was called Operation Rhino and the renowned film documentary named Operation Rhino was produced. Hawks studied this film documentary repeatedly to help incorporate aspects of it into his film.[4][5]

Michèle Girardon (Brandy, Pocket's romantic interest) spoke no English when cast in the role; she taught herself English while on the set, according to a July 1961 LIFE magazine profile of the actress.[6]

Government licensed animal catcher Willy de Beer was hired by Hawks to be the close by technical advisor, and his assistants and proteges became their staff of experts in regards to catching the animals.[7]

Hawks was inspired by the famous animal photographer Ylla, so he had his script writer, Leigh Brackett, change the script to create one of the main characters based on Ylla. She was Austrian born Hungarian and German boarding school educated. 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."[8] This helped create the character Anna Maria D'Alessandro "Dallas", who is a photographer working for a zoo and was played by actress Elsa Martinelli.[4][9][10][11]

Filming in Africa was dangerous for the production team and actors. Hawks said Wayne admitted being scared during some of the action scenes, "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." Wayne felt it was unpredictable with the terrain's hidden holes and obstacles which could have been disastrous.[12] When Hawks interviewed de Vargas he told him it would be very dangerous and showed him a documentary. De Vargas had no double and like the rest of the cast played in the animal catching shots.[13] One evening Buttons and Wayne were playing cards outside and a leopard came out of the bush towards them. When Buttons mentioned the approaching leopard, Wayne said, "See what he wants."[14] De Vargas said technical adviser Willy de Beer was mauled by a loose baby leopard that sprang on him from a tree, "He came back with his arm covered in bandages and throat completely wrapped, but he just shrugged it off." [15]

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".

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.

Hatari! introduced the memorable Henry Mancini tune "Baby Elephant Walk".[16] Other memorable musical moments involve a duet of Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home" (Swanee River) with Martinelli's character playing the piano, and Red Buttons' character playing the harmonica. Also, after "the Indian" is left to recuperate in the hospital, the members of the group get drunk and sing a somewhat tragicomical song that features lyrics like "Oh whisky leave me alone, I'm tired and I want to go home".

According to director Howard Hawks, all the animal captures in the picture were actually performed by the actors; no stuntmen or animal handlers were substituted onscreen. The rhino really did escape, and the actors really did have to recapture it - and Hawks included the sequence for its realism. Much of the action sequence audio had to be re-dubbed due to John Wayne's cursing while wrestling with the animals. However, a stand-in, "Rusty" Walkley (real name: Mildred Lucy Walkley), was used for some scenes involving Elsa Martinelli.[17]


Hatari! grossed $12,923,077 at the box office,[1] earning $7 million in US theatrical rentals.[18] It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1962.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Box Office Information for Hatari! The Numbers. Retrieved June 13, 2013.
  2. ^ Todd McCarthy, Howard Hawks: the grey fox of Hollywood, New York, Grove Press, 1997, pg 572, ISBN 0802115985
  3. ^ Todd McCarthy, Howard Hawks: the grey fox of Hollywood, New York, Grove Press, 1997, pg 572, ISBN 0-8021-1598-5
  4. ^ a b Thomas McIntyre, May/June 2012, "Fifty Years of HATARI! – The Story of Most Expensive Safari In the World", Sports Afield, pg 70
  5. ^ Todd McCarthy, Howard Hawks: the grey fox of Hollywood, New York, Grove Press, 1997, pg 575, ISBN 0802115985
  6. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=ilQEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA80&dq=Mich%C3%A8le+Girardon&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ANmnUanvMsLv0gGNpoH4DA&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Mich%C3%A8le%20Girardon&f=false
  7. ^ Frank Stanley, September 1961, Vol 33 No 9, "Hatari", International Photographer: The Magazine of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, pg 181
  8. ^ Joseph McBride (writer), "Hawks on Hawks", University of California Press, 1982, pg 143, ISBN 0-520-04344-8
  9. ^ Peter Bogdanovich ,"The Cinema of Howard Hawks", Museum of Modern Art-Doubleday, 1962
  10. ^ Scott Breivold, Peter Bogdanovich interviewer, "Howard Hawks: interviews", University Press of Mississippi, 2006, pg. 38, ISBN 1-57806-832-0
  11. ^ Todd McCarthy, Howard Hawks: the grey fox of Hollywood, New York, Grove Press, 1997, pg 573, ISBN 0802115985
  12. ^ Todd McCarthy, Howard Hawks: the grey fox of Hollywood, New York, Grove Press, 1997, pg 582, ISBN 0-8021-1598-5
  13. ^ Todd McCarthy, Howard Hawks: the Grey Fox of Hollywood, New York, Grove Press, 1997, pg 577, ISBN 0802115985
  14. ^ Thomas McIntyre, May/June 2012, "Fifty Years of HATARI! – The Story of Most Expensive Safari In the World", Sports Afield, pg 73
  15. ^ Todd McCarthy, Howard Hawks: the Grey Fox of Hollywood, New York, Grove Press, 1997, pg 579, ISBN 0-8021-1598-5
  16. ^ Henry Mancini interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  17. ^ Australian Womans Weekly December 5, 1962 at http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/44555225?searchTerm=GIRAFFES%20CAN%20DANCE%20&searchLimits=
  18. ^ "All-time top film grossers", Variety. 8 January 1964 pg 37.

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