Vintage Pulp Feb 3 2024
ROUGH TRADER
The movie is a Horn of plenty—of sticky historical issues.


Trader Horn is an Academy Award nominated movie adapted from the real life African adventures of the explorer Alfred Aloysius “Trader” Horn, and as a major production has many high quality posters. The one above is our favorite, but all the promos are impressive, as you'll see when we share some a little later. Trader Horn is an archetypal white goddess movie—which is to say, a group of intrepid adventurers encounter a white woman reigning over an African tribe. Obviously, Hollywood took a bit of creative license with Horn's biographical writings. At least, we assume so. Harry Carey plays Horn, an old hand on the Dark Continent, whose aplomb in the face of danger is nothing short of Richard B. Riddickesque: “The good Lord only gives us one death to die and a fellow musn't bungle it.”

On the other side of the emotional spectrum is the white goddess, played with pre-Hays Code abandon by a half-clad Edwina Booth. The central thrust of the plot is Horn's efforts to return Booth to the modern world. That's standard for the white goddess sub-genre. What isn't standard is Trader Horn's location shooting in the places known back then as the Terrritory of Tanganyika, the Protectorate of Uganda, Kenya ColonyAnglo-Egyptian Sudan, and the Belgian Congo. The expenduture must have been enormous, but the money shows—vividly. You won't be surprised to learn that people died making the film—one by being consumed by a crocodile, and the other by being trampled by a rhino. There were also numerous illnesses and accidents. And... it was all worth it! Just kidding. Thoughts and prayers.

We don't have to get into specifics on the movie's plot. There isn't much of one. It's more of a narrated travelogue than a linear story. Even so, it's a massive production well worth seeing. Obviously, old movies usually have their issues, none more so than old movies set in Africa. But if you go in with the right attitude they can be fun. For example, anytime a white character says something about how savage Africans are, just add to the end of the line of dialogue something like: “Says the guy from the race that invented flame throwers and the electric chair.” Also, take a drink (optional). The subsequent occasion an awful generalization is made about Africans, come up with two more horribly savage things whites invented. You'll never run out. Best pair from our screening: “Says the guy from the race that invented the Spanish Donkey and pension clawbacks.”

Look, here's the thing—it can be a good idea to keep it light when it comes to ninety-year-old movies that touch on race, sort of the way it can be a good idea to laugh it off when your grandfather tells you that during his miliary service he once went to Tokyo on shore leave and found the Japanese to be, “an inscrutable little people.” You can't change him, so you save your valuable anger for when you'll really need it, like when you go to Florida, where racism officially doesn't exist. In Trader Horn's defense, it may have been—like your grandpa—fairly liberal for the period. Kenyan castmember and Masai chieftain Mutia Omoolu gets at least a dozen lines of dialogue. We bet he didn't get paid union scale, though. Actually, the SAG didn't exist until 1933, but you get the point. Omoolu and fellow Kenyan performer Riano Tindama did, however, earn a trip to L.A. for reshoots, an event that occasioned some sensationalistic press coverage of a predictable nature.

We've wandered far afield. Let's crank this careening post back onto the main roadway and ask: Is Trader Horn a good movie? Owing to its age, we obviously wouldn't go that far. But it's a tremendous spectacle, and serious film buffs should see it. The idea that actors were out there on the veldt shooting this stuff instead of in front of a green screen emoting opposite a volleyball on a stick is amazing. But that type of unfiltered filmmaking is possibly gone for good. For one thing it costs a fortune. And generally, the arc of cultural development tends toward more safety, whether physically, mentally, professionally, or whatever. Beyond a doubt, certain things are lost along the way. Visceral cinematic realism comes to mind. But on the other hand, it's good for people not to be eaten by reptiles or contract schistosomiasis. Watch the movie and see what you think. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1931.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 22
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
April 21
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
April 20
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
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