Monday, March 26, 2018
I read and heard about Trader Horn long before I ever got a chance to see this seminal jungle adventure movie. MGM landed the property about a great-white-hunter type named Aloysius "Trader" Horn (apparently a real guy) who takes the young and raw son of a former ally under his wing and takes him into the depths of the African territory. It's a land filled with dangers of all kinds, but mostly it's a land filled to the brim with animals and more animals. After we meet Trader Horn (Harey Carey) and Peru (Duncan Renaldo) we get a long long section in the movie where Trader introduces Peru and the audience to one animal after another. It's quite a thing, and goes on for quite some time. I can only imagine what it was like for audiences of the day when these were rare creatures to catch sight of.
After the lengthy travelogue we get into the heart of the story when the duo and their safari meet encounter a tough missionary woman who is attempting to find her long-lost daughter named Nina. Trader promises to look for Nina if the woman fails and as it turns out she does tragically, so Trader is forced by his honor to press into territory unexplored by "white men" and find the girl. They find a fearsome tribe and an exotic and dangerous white woman who leads them, a veritable white goddess. Edwina Booth is electric in the role of Nina, and the fact she plays it nearly topless makes for some rakish movie making.
Of course Nina fall into love with Peru, though Trader himself has designs on her beautiful frame. The trio along with Trader's loyal gun-bearer Rencharo (Mutia Omoloo) race to save their lives as the natives bear down on them relentlessly. Not all of them will survive the adventure, which does evoke some pretty decent tension before it's all said and done. Apparently the dangers in making this movie were at least as harrowing as the narrative the fictional film itself. According to reports some of the team died from animal attacks and Edwina Booth infamously contracted an illness which ultimately ended her career. There seems to be some dispute what that illness was, but she for certain sued the producers of movie.
It was the success of Trader Horn which convinced the bigwigs at MGM that jungle movies were a profit-center and they cast about for another property to adapt. As it happens there was a little thing called Tarzan out there and they got it, so beginning the epic Weismuller run on the epic character. The first MGM Tarzan, Tarzan the Ape Man was produced by W.S. Van Dyke, who had also done Trader Horn, and much of the animal footage in the debut Tarzan movie was from Trader Horn. So for fans of the Ape Man, it's almost an unofficial prequel to the whole series. That's why I sought it out and I'm glad I did.