The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Safari (1956)

If only the characters the movies we're watching were aware of the genre they were in. Out of the box, existential intro, huh? That way, these characters would realize they're making the exact same mistake that countless other characters have done. Take 1956's Safari, or any movie with an African safari to be fair. If you're an old, rich hunter, just don't bring your babely girlfriend/fiance along for the fun. She will be scooped up by the younger, more athletic and dreamier big game hunter and/or safari guide. I'm just saying...

While out leading a safari in Kenya, big game hunter and guide Ken Duffield (Victor Mature) is alerted that his family and home have been attacked. He returns to the scorched remains to find his son's dead body amongst the wreckage and swears revenge when he finds out one of his house workers, Jeroge (Earl Cameron), is among the Mau Mau rebels who led the attack. Fearing he will take vengeance, the government takes back Duffield's license and ships him out, but he finds a way back in-country. He signs on with Sir Vincent Brampton (Roland Culver) who wants to undertake a safari, bringing his fiance, Linda (Janet Leigh), along. Duffield intends to lead the safari, but he's got his sites set on revenge too.

From director Terence Young, this 1956 African safari epic is a doozy of a movie, but an entertaining if somewhat oddly-tuned final product. It's not that it's bad -- far from it, I enjoyed it a lot -- but if a movie was schizophrenic, it would be 'Safari.' One minute it's interested in dazzling the eye with its African locations. The next minute its an intensely dark and cynical look at the real-life Mau Mau Uprising. Last, it's a fun, somewhat dumb story meant to spotlight Orlando Martins (playing camp boy Jerusalem) and his goofy, light-hearted theme song, 'We're on a Safari.' I don't exactly know how, but it manages to work in the end through all its schizo tendencies. Go figure, all that stuff packed into a 91-minute movie, and it ends up being an entertaining final package.

Filming on location in Kenya, 'Safari' is obviously aided by the gorgeous, expansive Kenyan savannahs. We see shots of herds of animals running across the savannah, crocodiles diving into rivers, elephants, rhinos and lions charging at the camera. For lack of a better description, it's cool to see, and that's just one reason 'Safari' succeeds. Like the recently reviewed 'Rampage,' or any number of other safari movies from the 1950s and 1960s (Hatari, Killers of Kiliminjaro, King Solomon's Mines, The Naked Prey), this one follows a familiar formula. If you're even remotely paying attention, you know where it will end up before the movie itself might even know. Hopefully, if you're like me, you enjoy going along for the ride even if you know where you'll end up.

Right in the midst of his heyday in terms of popularity, Mature is a solid choice to play the lead role, the safari guide who's pissed at the world and looking to exact some revenge. Oh, and he might be looking for love too. Watch out Janet, he's got his eye on you! I don't think anyone will ever claim Mature was a great actor, but he's a good meat and potatoes kind of star. Nothing flashy, just gets the job done as he does here. Leigh is the eye candy as the somewhat innocent/naive Linda (or just plain stupid), given a variety of gowns, dresses and revealing outfits to wear in the African wilderness. She also bathes a lot, the water always cutting off at a strategic place. Coincidence? Yeah, "probably." Culver is the doomed older man, not aware of how stupid he is or what he's stumbled into. John Justin plays Brian, Sir Vincent's much-maligned assistant who can't do anything right.

The other parts range from odd to mildly offensive to stock characters. Martins treads that fine line between offensive minority character and goofy, hammy character. The same for Tanzinian actor Juma who plays cackling camp boy Odongo in an incredibly stereotypical part. His laugh is bizarre, making me question if we're supposed to question the boy's sanity. As the intensely evil Jeroge, Cameron is pretty one-note, saying maybe five words while sneering and enjoying his kills far too much. Lionel Ngakane leaves a positive impression as Kakora, Duffield's assistant and leader of the camp boys.

Through it all, I was entertained at basically all times, at least partially due to its schizophrenic nature. By the end once that whole safari business is resolved, the story degenerates into one big running shootout at Jeroge leads some 200 Mau Mau rebels on a bloody rampage. Mature's Ken calmly stands in front of the charging rebels, blazing away with a Sten gun, smiling all the way. Even Leigh's Linda gets in on the action, picking off bad guys left and right with her rifle. Mindlessly entertaining and a fun movie to watch if nothing particularly new, it's worth a watch as a good popcorn movie, a solid rainy day effort.

Safari (1956): ***/****

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