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