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Safari (DVD Review)

10 Dec, 2012 By: John Latchem

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Sony Pictures
$20.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Victor Mature, Janet Leigh, John Justin, Roland Culver.

Back when I was director/programmer of the AFI Theater, my partner and essential co-equal there had some kind of fixation on this Victor Mature Mau Mau adventure — so much so that he got angry at himself one time for not realizing that Terrence Young had directed it until after the director had paid a visit to the office one day for reasons now obscure. Like, who wants to talk about From Russia With Love or Goldfinger when you have racially motivated political intrigue, Vic in Jungle Jim khaki and chorus girl Janet Leigh overdressed in the jungle? (Except for when she’s undressed and skinny-dipping in a scene fairly stimulating for its day.)

Well, every movie needs a friend, which is one of the reasons made-to-order DVDs were invented — though one does wonder how a movie this gorgeous to look at (Technicolor and originally 2.55:1) took this long to make it to market. Overall, it’s fairly routine, but Mau Mau’s and their uprising were big in the day; just a year later, MGM and Richard Brooks would mount a major black-and-white production with Rock Hudson, Sidney Poitier, Wendy Hiller and Dana Winter (right after the pods got her) of Robert Ruark’s novel Something of Value, which dealt with similar material. So did 1956’s Beyond Mombasa (Cornel Wilde, Donna Reed), which bored me as a kid when I saw it in a double bill with something better.

Time has been kind to Kenya’s anti-colonial Mau Maus — who, when I was the same youngster, were simply regarded as murderous thugs of a different skin color who slaughtered whites on their plantations. This is what happens here — and worse, the victim is Mature’s male youngster in a scene eerily reminiscent (we’re talking content, not emotional power) to the initial killings in John Ford’s The Searchers, which had opened only about three weeks before Safari’s U.S. premiere. Equally dreadful is the killer’s identity: a Mau Mau general who’d posed as a houseboy and had been considered a friend of the family.

The official British law is made up of effete pipe smokers, so when they tell to let authorities handle any retaliation, Vic is not exactly listening. But he makes his living as a Great White Hunter, and a snob with a trophy wife is in need of one — which is how he gets hired on with Leigh’s husband and eventually joins her (chastely) in the same bathing pool. Is it my imagination or did director Young (already working for Bond producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli here) give his lead an extra spacious towel to drape over himself when he emerges from the drink? This might have been a Great White Hunter with a paunch.

This is the kind of movie where you know that at least two parties are going to get theirs: the bogus houseboy (in a bad way) and Vic (in a good), once the script finds a way to rid itself of a nasty husband (Roland Culver), who’s been as exacting buying a safari guide as in buying a wife. Superior to 1940’s Paramount Safari with Madeleine Carroll and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., this is no world-beater but one of the best-looking DVDs of a vintage title I’ve seen in a while. The cinematographer was John Wilcox, who, in the ‘50s, sometimes found a home in the jungle. He also shot Outcast of the Islands for Carol Reed (which I’d love to see as a Criterion candidate) and Harry Black and the Tiger with Stewart Granger (man, how many times did he trek through heavy foliage?).

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