Trader Horn (1931) – reviewed by George

Based upon the Book by Ethelreda Lewis, Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, Adaptation by Dale Van Every and John Thomas Neville, Screen Play by Richard Schayer, Dialogue by Cyril Hume.
The Players: Harry Carey, Edwina Booth, Duncan Renaldo, Matia Omoola, Olive Golden.
Filmed in Tanganyika, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and Congo.
Four white hunters are also credited “for their courageous services through 14,000 miles of African veldt and jungle”.
The jungle photography is excellent; Cinematography by Clyde De Vinna. The film begins with two men, Aloysius “Trader” Horn (Carey) and Peru (Renaldo) in a canoe propelled by bearers. Horn tells Peru that their friendship mirrors that of Horn and Peru’s father, and indeed Horn treats Peru like a son throughout. Horn’s personal gun bearer and head boy is Rencharo (Matia Omoola), and this is another father-son type relationship. Rencharo is also Horn’s translator, since he speaks both English and Swahili.
The trio and a group of bearers travel Africa by river, trading with the natives, for instance copper wire for elephant tusks. On what seems to be Peru’s first trip they break off trading when they hear drums begin to sound, telegraphing by relay across great distances like the Twilight Bark. On their way out of the jungle they encounter a woman Horn knows well: Edith Trent (Olive Golden, later Olive Carey, after she and Harry were married). She and her bearers are searching for her daughter Nina, who, along with Mr. Trent, was kidnapped by a tribe some 16 to 20 years ago. Mr. Trent’s remains were found, but no news of Nina has turned up – until now. Edith has heard that Nina is now a fetish in the hands of the Isorgi, and she is currently on her way upriver to reach them. Horn reminds her that the drums have been announcing ju-ju, magic to call the tribes together, for a couple of days now, but she says she cannot go back when she is so near. Horn says he will give her a short headstart, then follow her, but no matter how sincerely she wishes it, he will not leave her in the current circumstances. She extracts a promise from him that if she dies he will find Nina.
There is a long natural history lesson, with good photography of various African mammals, birds, and reptiles, during the quest for the Isorgi, and I’m sure in 1931 it was exciting and instructive. Today it’s still interesting, as Peru asks questions and Horn answers them, but it is no longer exciting, except for the times when the party is being threatened by the animals.
One semi-spoiler: when they reach the town (too large for a village) of the Isorgi they find that Nina is not a fetish – she is the queen of the Isorgi, on an equal footing with and contesting against the witch-doctor and his cohorts.
At just over two hours this is an easy and somewhat suspenseful safari, and for 1931 a bit gory as well. And it’s fun to see Duncan Renaldo so many years before he became the Cisco Kid.

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