For Reel

Trader Horn (1931)
August 27, 2012, 6:49 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: W.S. Van Dyke

The history behind Trader Horn is far more engaging than anything in the film itself. It was the first picture said to be shot entirely on location in Africa (in reality, a second unit photographed some of the brutal animal attacks in Mexico), and its production led to two fatalities, a slew of sicknesses among the cast and crew, and the retirement of actress Edwina Booth, who was falsely reported as having been killed by a disease that she picked up while filming (Bill Goodman, writing for TCM, suggests that she contracted her unspecified illness while sunbathing in the nude without protection from the environment). The project had such ambition that it was nominated for Best Picture by the Academy in 1931, the rare adventure film to earn such an honor. Despite the overwhelming ordeal that was its production, however, Trader Horn is largely a bore – at an excessive two hours in length, W.S. Van Dyke spends much of his time shooting star Harey Carey narrating nature footage in excruciatingly long safari sequences. Exciting as the footage may have been at the time, today it is dull at best and more often unpleasant, as when lions who had been starved during production sack hyenas and monkeys. From a historical perspective, the casual racism, implied homoeroticism, and a supreme condescension towards women make the picture a worthwhile curiosity as a time capsule, but sitting through it is an ordeal second only to its making.

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