Monday, February 16, 2009

Trader Horn (1931)

Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke

Starring: Harry Carey, Duncan Renaldo, Mutia Omoolu, and Edwina Booth

Plot: Alfred Aloysius "Trader" Horn searches for a missionary's daughter amid the dangers of the African veldt.

Thoughts: My feelings on this film are a bit mixed. As an adventure, many parts of this film are quite exciting and have you glued to what's happening. However, there are many parts in this film that are overly long, such as several safari scenes that essentially function as a travelogue as Horn explains the assorted species of animals encountered. Several scenes are also rather uncomfortable to watch, for example, Horn casually throws out racial epithets and calls the local peoples "savages" repeatedly. It wouldn't surprise me if the memoirs the film was based on were replete with this sort of language, but regardless of the possible historical accuracy, it's still damn uncomfortable.

Based on the ivory trader's 1927 memoirs, Trader Horn's production was rather sordid. The sound recorded in Africa was of rather poor quality so MGM had additional footage shot (with two of the African nationals brought to the US - more on that in a moment) on their backlot, which gave rise to rumors of the location shooting being fake. Mutia Omoolu and Riano Tindama were denied entry to the Hollywood Hotel because they were black. Many of the animal scenes were later learned to have actually been filmed in Mexico where animal rights laws could be skirted to film under controlled, and sometimes brutal, situations. Many of the cast and crew contracted malaria and Edwina Booth managed to come down with a near-fatal neurological disorder. Despite all of this, Trader Horn went over huge with audiences. Many of the animal shots saw subsequent use in many of MGM's Tarzan movies.

The film is not available on DVD. It was released on VHS on 1994, but not on laserdisc. Possibly due to the objectionable content, Trader Horn isn't seen very often on Turner Classic Movies. While I'm no fan of censorship, I can certainly see why TCM might be reluctant to show it. Trader Horn was remade under less harrowing circumstances in 1973 and starred Rod Taylor. However, the remake is difficult to find.

Trader Horn was only nominated for Best Motion Picture, but it, and the rest of the nominees, lost to the epic western Cimarron.


  1. Is Edwina Booth any relation to the famous/infamous Booth family of actors?

    I suppose I could find out myself, but thought perhaps you knew offhand.

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