Classic Film Talk: ‘Safari’ (1956)

Today we reminisce about

Safari (1956)

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Directed by Terence Young

Starring: Victor Mature & Janet Leigh

* Published specifically for The Janet Leigh Blogathon hosted by Michaela at Love Letters to Hollywood *

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Synopsis

The Kenyan wilderness is an attractive destination to foreigners who wish to witness the abundant and varied wildlife but moreover for those who want to hunt for big game. American hunter Ken Duffield (Victor Mature) is an extremely talented sharpshooter who came to Africa during World War II, staying after afterwards making a business by leading safaris for tourists. It is a job that requires him to be away from home a great deal, forcing him to leave his son Charley behind to be taken care of by the hired help while he is gone. Every time he returns, Ken has a habit of bringing a toy or some other souvenir of his travels to express his affection for the young boy. Ken is not home long before he is once again off, much to the Charley’s dismay, though his father promises that they will spend quality time together once he has returned. Sadly, these plans will never come to light. During the safari, Ken gets words that a white settler has been killed near his land by a Mau Mau terrorist gang. Terrified, he races home as quickly as possible but arrives too late as everyone on the property has been killed and the house has been set ablaze. Charley was brutally shot to death by a Mau Mau general named Jeroge who had been posing as a houseworker and his charred remains are carried out by Ken who is beyond words. Not long after, he pledges his vengeance upon the Mau Mau’s, particularly towards Jeroge.

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Several months later, we find Ken drinking at a Nairobi bar when he is approached by wealthy Englishman Vincent Brampton, who wishes to hire Ken for a job. Brampton has also brought along his British assistant Brian Sinden and Linda Latham (Janet Leigh), an American socialite who admits to being with her fiancé because his money ensures that she does not get easily bored. Case in point: her going on a safari, which she thinks will be an exotic adventure. At first, Ken is hesitant to accept because he has voluntarily taken himself out of circulation and also because his hunting license has been revoked. After Brampton assures Ken that getting his license reinstated will not be a problem for him to arrange, Ken starts to have second thoughts. He eventually accepts, deciding that this will give him to opportunity to try and locate Jeroge for he has been hunting him all this time in Nairobi. They soon depart.

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Despite being warned by Brampton not to be on the trail of Jeroge and to stick to his assignment, Ken deliberately drives them into a Mau Mau settlement. There he takes one of the men as a hostage in the hopes that he will give clues to lead him to Jeroge. Luckily they all come out safe and continue on their trip, on the trail of a man-eating lion named Hatari. They settle near an area where they believe the animal to be located and have a chance to talk with one another a little more. Linda takes a liking to Ken who is impartial to her charm, finding her to be spoiled and lowly to marry a man she does not love just for financial comfort. One evening, Ken gets word that one of his African men is a double agent, having taken an oath of allegiance to the Mau Mau gang. He has no idea of who it is but keeps his eyes open. Ironically, he finds out where Jeroge is hiding but their attack is thwarted by the leak in their party. The intruder is eventually killed by Ken after he attempts to murder Linda in cold blood, an incident which affects her terribly and makes her react in an adverse fashion.

As the men are finally on the direct trail of Hatari, some unfortunate events strike. Linda makes a foolish decision that puts her life in danger and disrupts the hunt as Ken tries to once again save her life. Not only that, Brampton has decided to unload Ken’s gun in a jealous act to obtain full credit for killing Hatari. Tragedy is in the air and Jeroge is still at large, causing them further threat.

Discussion & Thoughts

Acting as producer for Safari was Albert R. Broccoli, best known for his production of the James Bond series. Together with Irving Allen, they formed Warwick Films, a company that specialised in making American pictures in Great Britain. (Notably, their first three pictures were with Alan Ladd before he also started up his own production company.) Columbia Pictures acted as their American distributer and the two entities worked together for all of Warwick’s projects except for their last film, 1961’s Johnny Nobody, which they tried to distribute on their own to poor results. Although Warwick folded, it did give Broccoli ample confidence into finding a suitable way to bring Bond to the big screen.

Safari was mostly filmed on-location in Kenya as well as in Warwick’s London studios for random scenes requiring sound stages. The African landscape is displayed in all of its natural grandeur which greatly benefits the overall story, giving it a necessary ruggedness without making the environment feel too secluded. A lot of native wildlife is used in cut scenes and as part of the action in the hunting scenes. It is fair to warn that the visual details of animals being killed, whether in defence or for the purpose of game hunting, are quite graphic. In the beginning of the film, Ken is on the hunt for elephants and shoots one directly in the head; its body plummets to the ground and the safari group gathers around to admire their “trophy”. In another scene, a charging rhinoceros is shot down but not before impaling Ken’s right hand man with his horns while Hatari eventually gets his. After the terrible tragedy at Ken’s home, a dead dog’s body with open flesh wounds is seen on the yard, only to be dragged away by a small animal reminiscent of a hyena. Not to mention that Charley’s death is as awful as seeing the McBain children gunned down in Once Upon a Time in the West, though Safari was done 12 years earlier.

Getting past the initial heartbreak of Ken losing and burying his son, you will find that this is a rewarding film to watch. The performances of the lead actors are outstanding, especially Victor Mature who was perfectly cast in the role. I seem to say this in every article I write about him but he was indeed a gifted thespian who did not give himself enough credit. Mature would end up partaking in three other films for Warwick and interestingly enough, Safari was supposed to be his second film for them although it was pushed up after production for Zarak (1957) was postponed. In another bit of irony, Ronald Culver who played Brampton would later appear in 1965’s Thunderball as the British Foreign Secretary “who briefs the 00 agents for Operation Thunderball and has doubts about Bond’s efficiency.”*

Janet Leigh

Janet was building a strong filmography at the time she appeared in Safari and this would be the last film she would make before becoming a mother in July 1957. She is lovely in this film, not as delicate as she was in her earlier projects like Little Women and Holiday Affair while not yet as mature and refined as when she appeared in Psycho. Along with her role in The Vikings and as Linda, Janet had to be rather physical and endure a certain lack of amenities and conveniences which ended up strengthening the dispositions of her characters.

01A83DV3Linda is not a very complicated person overall even though she appears to be by the way she behaves around money, such as wearing a party dress and pearls to dinner during the safari. She starts having a drinking problem because alcohol is so readily available and is something that everyone in upper social circles enjoys. Obviously she is very bored with her life and drinks to hide that fact, something that Ken deduces and it is thanks to her esteem for him that she decides to quit. Being around Ken gradually softens her and she starts seeing the world a bit differently. Oddly enough, her fiancé does not seem to be bothered by her obvious growing affection for him, something which is never really explained in the film. Ken and Linda’s interactions with another do not make it so that a romance is born. In fact, Ken never as much as kisses her until the finale and even then, he is on the receiving end. He never loses his focus on avenging his son’s murder and moreover his grief is omnipresent, leaving him a wounded man. Once Linda realises these things about Ken, she becomes gentler towards him. The only time that she reverts back to her former behaviour is after her traumatic near-death experience. She starts to question everyone’s ideas, saying that she can take care of herself. On a last drinking binge, she drunkenly paddles down the river in a small inflatable raft, not noticing the dangerous hippopotami and crocodiles swimming around her until the very last minute. Thankfully she is rescued and is able to redeem herself, helping the men on their final shoot-out with the Mau Mau’s by manning a rifle on her own.

This is a lesser known entry in Janet’s filmography but one that is worth discovering. She was a beautiful face and infamous for her generously curvaceous figure but she was also a lady with a great deal of talent.

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Tony Curtis tells a great anecdote about Safari in his autobiography, An American Prince. (pgs. 196 & 177)

Janet later told me about a scene when she was in the Congo River, and she had to swim across to the other side. The script read: A crocodile swims by.

When they were discussing the scene, Mature said, “Where will I be?”

The director said, “You’ll be in the water.”

Mature said, “No, I won’t.”

The director said, “You don’t have to worry. The crocodiles will swim around you.”

Mature said, “No, they won’t.”

The director said, “I’m telling you, don’t worry. I’ll have a propman out there with a gun, and when you step into the water, he’ll fire it, and the crocodiles will scurry away.”

Mature said, “What if they’re hard of hearing?”

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11 thoughts on “Classic Film Talk: ‘Safari’ (1956)

  1. Ha! Love the crocodile story. You can’t make a movie without the actors, but they are treated like any other commodity.

    I don’t recall ever seeing Safari, or of it showing up on television during all those Sunday afternoons of classic movie watching. I will certainly keep my eyes peeled. Janet Leigh was so lovely and versatile, and Victor Mature is a favourite of mine. Everything he did, he did well.

    – Caftan Woman

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Definitely keep those eyes peeled! 😊 I got my copy as a part of a double feature that was released in Spain. That is also how I got a boxset of Mature’s noirs. You would be impressed to see the star treatment that these classic stars get in Spain and Italy.

      I agree completely about Mature who was just aces. Perhaps his style of self-deprication kept him humble. 😄 Janet co-starred with some of the best in the business. Another film of hers that I love is ‘Jet Pilot’ which was released 7 years after it was made. Crazy stuff!

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  2. While I’m not crazy about hunting and killing animals for sport, I do adore Janet and this sounds like a good showcase for her. And I love that story from Tony Curtis.

    I hadn’t heard of this one before, so thanks for bringing it to my blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so welcome, Michaela, and thank you for remembering Janet! 😊
      I’m not crazy about game hunting either. This is a retrospective of past practises though people still do that sport today generally under more controlled circumstances. This film is by no means championing for killing animals but is rather an action/adventure story. It is a pretty intense watch for the reasons I listed in my text so you are totally within your right to be wary. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. 😂 He sure was!! I read that on another one of his films, he refused to perform on a horse and sadly enough his stunt double was killed. Mature had pretty good intuition and good on him for standing his ground. 👍

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    1. Thanks Rebecca! 😀 Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head with that comparison. It is definitely one of the more interesting films that I have seen. If you liked ‘Mogambo’, definitely give this one a try.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad that you like this film as well. I personally enjoy it more with each viewing. These classic films that were completed entirely on location were really something else. Africa was still quite a mystery to many filmgoers, allowing people to further fuel their imaginations. 🙂

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