It’s a Safari of Love! Burning sands . . . burning lips! It’s night-time on the glamorous Nile!
Let’s back the truck up for a moment before looking at this week’s picture, 1940’s Safari with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Madeleine Carroll. It’s again a good exercise to compare some of the marketing pitches against the actual film they are tied to.
Safari is a pretty good if formulaic jungle film, but there is nothing torrid about it at all. If memory serves, there isn’t a single kiss in the entire film until the final, making the ‘burning lips’ tag a bit irrelevant. We are set on a river on a game hunt for most of the picture, far away from the vast seas of sand implied above. And there’s no need for a discussion on the glamorous life on the Nile, as little could be further from the truth.
With our rant on misleading advertising over, let’s look at the picture itself. To say it isn’t very popular is an overstatement as even an internet search reveals insanely little. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is Logan, a tour guide who organizes safaris and hunts. But though he’s known as the best around he’s looking for a bit of a break, at least for a bit- though retirement doesn’t seem too far out of the question.
Logan’s friend (think of something resembling an agent, perhaps) and local bartender (Billy Gilbert as Mondehare) finds a wealthy couple willing to pay top dollar for a safari. Logan’s reluctant at first but after a first flirtatious meeting with the couple he agrees. He’ll be the guide for the arrogant and self-important Baron de Courtland (Tullio Carminati) and his potential fiancé Linda Stewart (Madeleine Carroll).
The Baron is hoping to finally convince Linda to marry him and hopes that in sharing the thrills of the hunt and his prowess in the jungle with her she will finally succumb to his desires. Linda’s a bit of an odd duck at first glance. She flirts outrageously with Logan and we can feel the tension build between them, but it doesn’t seem to lead to anything.
Once on the river on the way to the jungle, the Baron becomes more forceful and condescending in his demands of Logan, which Logan accepts as best he can. Linda continues her flirtations with Logan, who reciprocates to a certain extent. What we start to see is that Linda is playing with Logan only to make the Baron jealous. With each flirtation comes a further agitated order from him to their guide.
Finally downriver, they setup base camp. As Logan preps his plane for a flight to locate big game in the area, Linda decides to come along. Though promising the Baron that they’ll be back by dark, a combination of bad weather and poor time management cause Logan and Linda to stay the night by the plane. During their trip Linda takes picture after picture of nearby game until Logan catches on that she long ago ran out of film. Assuming that her white lie is a ploy to spend more time with him, he’s flattered and moves a bit closer to her. Only then does it become clear that she’s only interested in making the Baron jealous. Crestfallen, Logan settles in for the night and they return to camp the next morning.
While they’ve been away the Baron’s gone off on his own in a bit of a jealous rage and shot a leopard. Only injuring the animal, he leaves it to one of the manservants (named “Happy”) to finish off the beast. Only Happy never returns and Logan finds his body coiled with the now dead leopard. We can see that Logan’s dander is now up but he continues the hunt.
Along with Linda and the Baron, Logan comes across a lion. Logan cautions the Baron to shoot him behind the ear, which a hunter of the Baron’s skill should be able to do rather easily. The Baron sneers at Logan then proceeds to shoot the lion in the shoulder. Now it’s Logan’s turn to finish off the Baron’s work and he disappears into the bush.
Once out of sight we hear the lion roar and struggle. With each roar we cut to a shot of Linda’s face, and it is now that we see that in spite of what she’s said in the past that she’s fallen in love with Logan. With a gunshot we hear the struggle cease and Logan finally emerges, badly bleeding from his arm. Linda wants to run to him but restrains herself.
After lecturing the Baron on intentionally botching the shot, Logan cancels the hunt as he needs medical attention that’s only available back in town. One the way back Linda calls things off with the Baron for good, knowing that it is Logan she desires. After a brief disappearance to convalesce Linda finally finds him and all ends well.
Safari sounds pedantic and plodding, but it’s actually a pretty good film- though definitely not a great film. Both Fairbanks and Carroll do well here, though no one watching ever buys that Linda isn’t falling for Logan. Tullio Carminati is a rather flat one trick pony as the Baron but that’s exactly how Delmer Daves wrote it.
What you won’t find is a tremendous amount of action in Safari. Though the premise is entirely about hunting, there animals appear insanely rarely on film here and what little actual hunting takes place happens with the animals off camera. Mogambo this isn’t. Look at Safari as a drama with a bit of hunting in it as opposed to looking at it as a safari picture with a plot and you’ll have a good time with it.