Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Trader Horn (1973)

Showcasing nearly every jungle cliché in existence, the ’70s version of Trader Horn is the epitome of Hollywood fakery. Set in Africa but shot in Los Angeles, complete with a finale set at the same location used for the exterior of the Batcave in the ’60s Batman TV series, the picture expresses such dubious themes as the white savior, the shrewish woman who needs taming by a man, and the nobility of a maverick who makes his own rules. Decoding this film, one would assume that the path to world peace involves letting self-possessed white men make decisions for everyone. To say the film’s politics were behind the times when Trader Horn was released in 1973 is an understatement. Therefore it’s no surprise to learn that a previous biopic was made about the same real-life historical figure way back in 1931, when demeaning attitudes toward gender and race were even more commonplace in Hollywood. The historical figure in question is Alfred Aloysius “Trader” Horn (1861–1931), a white man who lived in Africa and made his living off ivory but also helped local citizens escape slavery. A complicated portrayal of his life would be fascinating. The 1973 version of Trader Horn is not. Rod Taylor, all macho posturing, plays Horn as a principled rascal who leads hunting parties but rages whenever animals or natives are needlessly endangered. As the story is set in the World War I era, Horn finds himself caught between British and German concerns while helping a party search for an elusive platinum mine and, eventually, aiding revolutionaries. Aside from the peculiar vignette of Taylor riding a zebra, there’s nothing here people haven’t seen in a zillion Tarzan pictures, and apparently the best location footage was repurposed from the 1931 version and juiced with color effects. Trader Horn zips along at a fast pace, so it’s not boring—but it’s so derivative and unevolved that it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

Trader Horn: LAME


Unknown said...

This looks to have been earmarked originally for TV; MGM was raiding its film vault for stories with easy-to-get rights (and copious stock footage) that could be converted to possible tv series - or failing that, low-budget second features that could be played off in the "b" and "c" counties over the weekends.

The director here was Reza S. Badiyi, who then as now was best known as the creator of the opening title sequences for many TV series of that period - including (but not limited to) Hawaii-Five-O, Get Smart, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, and many, many more ...

Badiyi was Iranian by birth; before he emigrated to the USA, he'd been the official photographer for the Shah and his family.
Once in Hollywood, Badiyi quickly established himself in TV, eventually moving up to directing episodes and telemovies.
Trader Horn was obviously sold to him as an entree into Major Feature Films - except that it wasn't.
And so Reza Badiyi returned to TV, where he had to settle for a lifetime career (and a lot of respect within the craft).

Unknown said...

Mike Doran, thank you. For some reason I best associate Badiyi with Rockford Files episodes, in particular one about a confusion of names getting Jim involved with a rich family named Rockfelt, another being basically a smaller version of the thriller Coma, dealing with a black market in spare organs.

Unknown said...

The 70s porn version was called "Trader Hornee".