Disc Jockey: Kick back with Howard Hawks’ hang-out great ‘Hatari!’

John Wayne goes to Africa to hunt animals for zoos in Howard Hawks' "Hatari!" Credit: Paramount
John Wayne goes to Africa to hunt animals for zoos in Howard Hawks’ “Hatari!”
Credit: Paramount


The films of Howard Hawks have great stories, and even great storytelling. But they’re fundamentally hang-out movies. Even a twisty noir like “The Big Sleep” or a western titan like “Rio Bravo” function more as great scenes than well-spun yarns. Hawks’ recipe for a solid picture was “three good scenes, no bad scenes.” As he reached the end of his career — and as mainstream movies were about to become more open to modernism and experimentation — Hawks stripped everything down to pure momentary pleasures. “Hatari!,” the filmmaker’s fifth-to-last outing, was actually created without any overreaching story to connect its episodes. Credited screenwriter Leigh Brackett didn’t mean it well when she recalled that “he didn’t want plot, he just wanted scenes.” (It was in part her job after filming to piece it together into some shape.)

Oddly, this massive, happily meandering behemoth — newly out on high-def — was assumed by Paramount to be the next “The Ten Commandments.” It wasn’t (although it did fine), and it was even wielded as an example by the likes of Pauline Kael about how the budding auteur theory, introduced to America by her regular combatant Andrew Sarris, was cherishing clearly worthless product. Granted, it’s not for everyone, being a 159-minute vacation in East Africa, offering viewers the chance to hob-nob with those who catch wild animals and sell them to zoos.

There’s a lot of adventure, including a rhinoceros chase and doings with a giraffe and baby elephants. And there’s one of the world’s biggest stars, John Wayne, who would call it the most fun he ever had making a picture. (Wayne even bagged an elephant of his own, albeit one prepared for him.) Whether the good times extend to the audience depends on the individual audience members. Get into its leisurely vibe, and it’s heaven; if you can’t, it’s almost certainly a slog, albeit an undeniably gorgeous one. Even moreso than any of his other pictures, “Hatari!” has the room for Hawks and his cast to stretch out, pull up a chair and sip on a drink, unencumbered by anything but the occasional, rip-roaring expedition (albeit dangerous ones, for characters, cast and crew). If part of you always wished “Only Angels Have Wings” or “To Have and Have Not” didn’t have to even seldomly attend to narrative, “Hatari!” is your movie.

That said, “Hatari!” doesn’t have the same vivid characters as those films, although not for lack of trying. The cast of “Hatari!” is an international bunch, the result of Hawks going on a bender of European cinema. He grabbed Italian star Elsa Martinelli after seeing her in Roger Vadim’s vampire opus “Blood and Roses,” plus German Hardy Kruger and French doll Michele Girardon (soon for Eric Rohmer’s “The Bakery Girl of Monceau”), who became the latest of Hawks’ many crushes. (There’s also Red Buttons, who showed up on set having not even met Hawks. The two bro’d down instantly.)

The language barrier may explain why it doesn’t have the banter and verve of other Hawks films, although Kruger, for one, spoke perfect English. But everyone gets along, the company is inviting, the sights are breathtaking and the pacing is so wonderfully slack that time quickly evaporates. In some ways, “Hatari!” is borderline avant-garde in the way it foregrounds downtime and ancillary matters while shoving narrative deep into the background — no less impressive for coming from an established studio workhorse who was only in the early 1960s, thanks in part to puckish superfan Peter Bogdanovich, being reassessed as a serious artist (which made him more than slightly uncomfortable). At the same time it’s the definition of escapist cinema.

Also out

‘George Washington’ Director David Gordon Green had a bizarre and pretty fruitful, actually, sideline from moody indies to often stoner-heavy mainstream comedies (“Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness”). But he’s back in low budgets now, with the Nicolas Cage-starring “Joe” forthcoming. And his stunning debut — a rhapsodic look at low income kids — is now on Blu-ray.

‘Out of the Furnace’ Slipped into theaters to take advantage of is name cast, this is actually a gruesomely bleak drama in a Joe Thompson/Cormac McCarthy vein, with Christian Bale trying to save his brother (Casey Affleck) from redneck meth monsters.

‘Giant’ If “Hatari!” seems large, it’s got nothing on George Stevens’ 1956 monstrosity, which follows Rock Hudson’s Texas oil baron battling a noveau riche baron (James Dean, in his final turn) over some 3 ½ hours. It’s aptly named, although technically it has nothing on the 240 hour Danish film “Modern Times Forever,” the current longest film ever made.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.


Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…


OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…


MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.


Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."


'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.


'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."


TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.


Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.


Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.


Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”


Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.


Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.


Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…


NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.


The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.