Trader Horn (1931)

Trader Horn (1931)

“That’s Africa for you: when you’re not eating somebody, you’re trying to keep somebody else from eating you.”

An experienced trader (Harry Carey) and his young companion (Duncan Renaldo) in 19th century Africa promise a missionary (Olive Carey) to look for her missing daughter (Edwina Booth), who was captured by a tribe years earlier and turned into a “white goddess”.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Africa
  • Jungles
  • Native Peoples
  • Search
  • W.S. Van Dyke Films

Before the advent of nature shows on television, audiences in 1931 were understandably blown away by this Oscar-nominated adventure film (based on Alfred Aloysius Horn‘s memoirs), which featured wild African animals rushing across the big screen, “exotic” tribes of humans with unusual jewelry and customs, and death-defying treks through unfamiliar geographic landscapes. These days, the film’s excruciatingly patronizing and racist attitude towards African natives — “Horn, you’re mistaken about these people — they’re not savages, they’re just happy, ignorant children.” — makes it a truly challenging pill to swallow; it remains valuable simply as a historic artifact of our inability to understand, let alone appreciate, cultures radically different from our own. However, it’s fascinating to reflect on what the cast and crew went through to make this on-location film: apparently wild-eyed Booth contracted an illness that effectively ended her career:

… Carey was nearly killed during one scene swinging over a live crocodile, and director W.S. Van Dyke had plenty of rum on hand and in mouth the entire time. Meanwhile, additional footage was secretly shot in Mexico to flesh out gaps, and it became a blockbuster success.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Groundbreaking footage of African animals and tribal practices

  • Impressive on-location cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only of value for its historical relevance as the first fiction film made in Africa.


2 thoughts on “Trader Horn (1931)

  1. You’ve heard of the lost ‘spider valley’ sequence snipped from King Kong. Trader Horn had an equally horrific cannibal headhunters attack that decimates the safari. Audiences went screaming from the theaters, and the sequence is considered lost forever.

  2. First viewing. Not must-see. I’ll just say I’m in agreement with what’s written in the first assessment above and leave it at that.

    Except to say that – far-fetched as it is, the film’s second half is more interesting dramatically than the first. And, overall, though it’s only two hours, the film does feel… long.

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