Cast & Crew
W. S. Van Dyke Ii
Deep in the heart of Africa, famous hunter, explorer Aloysius Horn, known as Trader Horn due to his bartering skills, tells Peru, the son of his best friend, that he was the first white man to set eyes on the river on which they are sailing. When their boat approaches a small African village that is bustling with activity, the natives welcome the visitors, and Trader asks to be taken to the chief. Though Trader warns Peru of the savage nature of the natives, Peru is nevertheless shocked when he sees a human skeleton displayed on a public cross. The white men's visit is soon interrupted by the ominous sound of a distant drum beat, known as "ju-ju," which the Africans, as well as Trader, know signals the impending attack of the brutal Masai warriors. Trader explains to Peru that when the Masai and the Kukua tribes get together, "the devil is certainly involved," and suggests that they move on. That night, the men, with their African guide, Renchero, set up camp, but they are awakened by the unexpected arrival of the white missionary woman, Edith Trent. Edith, a friend of Trader, whom Trader calls the bravest woman in all of Africa, informs him that she intends to go above the Opanga Falls and into Isorgi country in order to find her missing daughter Nina, who is believed to be living among the Isorgi. Trader warns Edith of the dangers of traveling during ju-ju and offers to accompany her, but she refuses, claiming that the presence of a male with guns will only startle the warriors into violence. Edith consents, however, to allow Trader and his companions to follow her at a distance, on the condition that he continue her search if something should happen to her. Not long after the expedition begins, Trader and Peru discover Edith's body by the river. They proceed to bury it under rocks and mark it for witch doctors, who will later dig it up and make charms out of it. As they promised Edith, Trader and Peru take up her search for Nina, and on the trail find themselves in the company of giraffes, leopards, ostriches, warthogs, zebras and other creatures. After Trader and Peru finally locate Nina, they soon realize that she is the sadistic white goddess of the village in which she lives, and that she plans to sacrifice her new visitors by tying them to crosses and burning them. At the last minute, though, Nina has a change of heart, orders their release, and plans an escape with them from the bushmen, who have turned on her. The goddess escorts the men across the lake, and they brave the perils in their path, including a lion attack. During the course of their journey, Peru and Nina fall in love, and when they kiss, Trader insists that he separate from them for the remainder of the trip. The sound of the enemy tribe's approach sends them scattering, Peru with Nina, and Trader with Renchero. The next morning, Trader discovers that Renchero has sacrificed his life in order to protect him and mourns the loss of his friend. Meanwhile, Peru and Nina are shown to safety by a tribe of pygmies, and they are eventually reunited with Trader. Peru tells Trader that he is taking Nina back to civilization to educate her, and as they sail off, Trader sees an image of Renchero in the clouds on the horizon.
W. S. Van Dyke Ii
Clyde De Vinna
John Thomas Neville
Dale Van Every
Trader Horn was Van Dyke's third exotic on-location adventure for MGM; the first two - filmed in the South Seas - were White Shadows in the South Seas (1928) and The Pagan, (1929). The narrative follows the title character, an African trader (Harry Carey), and his partner, Peru (Duncan Renaldo), as they travel deep into uncharted territory to swap wares with the local natives. On their trek upriver the traders meet Edith Trend, a missionary woman (Olive Fuller Golden) in search of a daughter who disappeared in the wilds some 20 years earlier. Though the two men warn Edith of the dangers involved, she takes off on her own, only to be found dead a few days later. Nevertheless, Trader Horn and Peru decide to continue the search for Edith's missing daughter, traveling deep into the jungle. Their journey soon puts them in harm's way; they are taken captive by a bloodthirsty tribe of natives ruled by a mysterious white woman (Edwina Booth). If you've ever seen any Tarzan films, you can probably guess the rest.
Trader Horn was the book sensation of its day, so it was inevitable that Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg would snatch up the rights for MGM as a possible feature film. But the project was met with skepticism by some within the MGM production department who knew the difficulty of on-location shoots. When the project was pitched to Van Dyke, the director took a few days to read over the story proposal, decided to accept it, and returned the manuscript to Mayer with a note that said, "only a goof would try it."
But Van Dyke was no goof, and he approached what would be Hollywood's very first expedition to "The Dark Continent" in dead earnest. From the moment MGM announced the project, letters began pouring in from "authorities" on Africa pointing out what they should and should not do. However, before setting foot in Africa, Van Dyke first had to assemble a cast willing to suffer the rigors of the exhaustive shoot. Wallace Beery was first approached for the part of the Trader, but he had no interest in working in Africa, so Thalberg turned to Harry Carey who was having difficulty finding work. Carey was in desperate need of money after a burst dam practically destroyed his ranch. Carey gladly accepted the part for $600 a week. But the role of the missing daughter turned tribal leader required a more unorthodox method of casting. On the day of the screen tests, thousands of blondes lined up to vie for the part. Worried they didn't have enough negative to test them all, Van Dyke decided to drive by in a camera car pretending to shoot them all, only committing to a few he found promising. The young Miss Booth saw what was going on, assumed there was no film in the camera at all, and became enraged. She made a scene, protesting right to Van Dyke's face, and took off across the lot with the director in hot pursuit. Van Dyke knew he had found the right girl for the part!
At long last the crew arrived in Africa, but the production immediately took a down turn. The truck carrying the sound equipment fell into the river, cast and crew were plagued by insects and snakes, hostile natives threatened the entire company, and Carey nearly lost his leg (if not his life!) during one scene. As Carey flees cannibals in the film, he is forced to swing on a vine (think Tarzan) over a crocodile-infested river. When you watch this scene, keep your eyes on the crocodiles - they are no special effect. While shooting, Carey made a low pass over the snapping jaws, and nearly became lunch.
Escaping the rigors of the daily shoot, Van Dyke found solace in a gin bottle - lots of them! His liquid therapy began to take its toll on the film, and Mayer was appalled at the mixture of slapdash and often useless footage from Van Dyke's unit. When the beleaguered crew returned from Africa, Mayer fired everyone and scrapped the project. But in the interest of recouping some of their investment, executives at MGM convinced Mayer and Thalberg that the project could be salvaged. So they hired a crew to build sets and secretly shoot additional footage in Mexico without the public finding out that the film was not entirely shot in Africa.
When Trader Horn was finally released, it was met with widespread enthusiasm. "Animal" pictures had long been popular fare, and this one made a huge impression with its startling sights and sounds of the jungle. One breathless woman remarked after seeing the film "I don't mind animal pictures when they're silent. But when you hear them, it's terribly realistic!" Meanwhile, MGM executives were hearing realistic sounds of their own, a distinct "cha-ching" as the film grossed nearly a million dollars at the box office; and applause when Trader Horn earned an Oscar® nomination for Best Picture.
But the difficult production aspects of Trader Horn continued to haunt some cast and crewmembers for several years, particularly Edwina Booth. She was plagued for years by rumors that she had contracted a fatal disease on location as a result of either the "malarial environment" or witchcraft. In reality, Miss Booth did sue MGM after she came down with an illness, which she blamed on the fact that the studio insisted she sunbathe in the nude, and failed to provide her with adequate protection from the environment. The suit was settled out of court, and Miss Booth retired from the motion picture business after teaming up with Harry Carey in two subsequent films.
Producer: Irving Thalberg
Director: W. S. Van Dyke
Screenplay by Richard Schayer, Cyril Hume, Dale Van Every, John Thomas Neville, based on the book by Alfred Aloysius Horn.
Cinematography: Clyde De Vinna
Film Editing: Ben Lewis
Music: William Axt, Sol Levy
Cast: Harry Carey (Trader Horn), Edwina Booth (Nina Trend), Duncan Renaldo (Peru), Olive Carey (Edith Trend), Mutia Omoolu (Rencharo).
BW-123m. Closed captioning.
by Bill Goodman
An edited version of the main title theme became the basis for all MGM's Tarzan movies ('30s and '40s) main title theme music.
Half-way through filming, MGM sent a sound crew to Africa because of the public desire for all-talking sound pictures. However, the sound quality was so poor almost all the dialogue sequences were reshot at MGM's Culver City Studio. African natives Mutia Omoolu and Riano Tindama were brought back to Hollywood for some additional filming. When this activity caused rumors to circulate that the entire production was filmed on the back lot, MGM scrapped much of the new footage, including those scenes with Marjorie Rambeau, who had replaced Olive Carey as Edith Trent.
When Mutia Omoolu and Riano Tindama, both native Africans, were brought to Hollywood for re-shoots, they were refused admission to the Hollywood Hotel because of the color of their skin.
MGM secretly sent a second unit crew to Tecate, Mexico to avoid the American laws about ethical treatment of animals. Animals were shot fighting each other, and lions were reportedly starved to promote vicious attacks on hyenas, monkeys and deer.
Director Van Dyke and many of the crew contracted malaria and were treated with quinine. Two fatal mishaps occurred during the African filming: a native crewman fell into the river and was eaten by a crocodile, and a native boy was killed by a charging rhino (which was captured on film and is in the movie). But other misfortunes plagued the production, including flash floods, sunstroke, swarming locusts, and tse-tse fly and ant attacks.
According to 'Alfred Hitchcock' , audiences at the first screening of this film laughed when C. Aubrey Smith suddenly appeared in the story.
The following onscreen acknowledgment appears in the film's titles: "M-G-M acknowledges Governors and governmental officials of the Territory of Tanganyika, the Protectorate of Uganda, the Colony of Kenya, the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, [and] the Belgian Congo, whose courtesy and cooperation made this picture possible...and the director offers his thanks for the courageous and efficient services of the White Hunters, Maj. W. V. D. Dickinson, A. S. Waller, Esq., J. H. Barnes, Esq., [and] H. R. Stanton, Esq., who were chiefly responsible for the expedition's ability to traverse 14,000 miles of African velt and jungle." According to a Film Daily news item, following its publication, Trader Horn became one of the best-selling books of its time. The film was the first non-documentary film to be shot almost entirely on location in Africa. A January 1930 AC article notes that the film was nearly half completed when the studio informed the crew in Africa that Hollywood was sending a sound crew to meet them. They were told that "the world was demanding its pictures all-talking." According to an April 1931 Photo article, M-G-M secretly sent a second unit to Tecate, Mexico, away from American laws that secured the ethical treatment of animals, to film scenes of animals fighting with each other, which they were unable to capture on film in Africa. In Mexico, lions were reportedly starved for several days in order to ensure immediate and particularly vicious attacks on hyenas, monkeys and deer.
Modern sources relate the following information about the film: Tim McCoy was originally chosen to play the title role; Thelma Todd was tested for the part of "Nina" and M-G-M production head Irving Thalberg reportedly considered Jeanette MacDonald for the part. During the filming of a scene in which white hunter Major W. V. D. Dickinson and director W. S. Van Dyke doubled for the leading men, a charging rhino nearly killed Dickinson, who incorrectly thought that the director was in distress and jumped into the rhino's path to protect him. During production, Van Dyke and many of his crew contracted malaria and were treated with quinine. Despite the British authorities' insistence that no one travel to the Murchison Falls, a known sleeping-sickness area, the director took his crew there for filming. The production was marred by at least two fatal disasters. In the first instance, a native crew member fell into a river and was eaten by a crocodile; in the other incident, which was captured on film, a native boy was struck by a charging rhino. Misfortunes of lesser consequence on the African location included flash floods, sunstroke, swarming locusts and tsetse-fly and ant attacks. Despite months of sound filming, almost all of the dialogue sequences in the film were re-shot on M-G-M's Culver City backlot after the troupe returned from Africa because of the poor quality of the location footage. As the script called for speaking scenes involving African natives Mutia Omoolu and Riano Tindama, they were brought back to Hollywood for additional shooting. With all the production activity in Culver City, rumors began circulating in Hollywood that the entire production was filmed on the M-G-M lot and that the African expedition did not take place. For this reason, the studio decided to scrap the backlot footage of Marjorie Rambeau, who had replaced Olive Golden as "Edith Trent." Modern sources add the following credits: Red Golden, Assistant Director; Josephine Chippo, Script clerk; John McClain, Press agent and Miss Gordon, Hairdresser. Although modern sources indicate that the film was originally released with a short introduction in which director Cecil B. DeMille discusses the film's authenticity with author Alfred Aloysius Horn, and that the three-minute introduction was deleted from the negative in 1936, when the picture was re-issued, neither the viewed print nor the cutting continuity contain the introduction. The final production cost was pegged at $3,000,000.
Leading actor Harry Carey was married to actress Olive Golden. According to modern sources, following publicized rumors of an affair between stars Duncan Renaldo and Edwina Booth (formerly Josephine Woodruff) during production, Renaldo's wife, Suzette, filed for divorce and later filed a $50,000 lawsuit against Booth for "alienation of affection." On January 17, 1931, Duncan Renaldo was arrested on charges that he entered the United States illegally and was later sentenced to two years in federal prison. After serving less than two years, Renaldo received a pardon from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936, after which he left the country, re-entered legally and became a U. S. citizen. Booth contracted a rare tropical disease while filming in Africa that affected her nervous system and reportedly forced her to remain confined to a darkened room for the better part of six years.
Trader Horn was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture of the 1930-31 season, and director W. S. Van Dyke was awarded the Red Cross Medal by the Japanese government for his outstanding achievement in direction.
In 1932 United Artists released a Mickey Mouse animated short, entitled Trader Mickey, which was a spoof of this film. Other take-offs on Trader Horn include an X-rated 1970 film entitled Trader Hornee (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.5148), and Trader Hound, a 1931 M-G-M "Dogville Comedy" short subject. M-G-M made another version of Trader Horn in 1972 with Reza S. Badiyi directing and Rod Taylor and Anne Heywood starring.