Cast & Crew
Armand Denis and Lewis Cotlow travel to Africa with two goals: to film the African sights in color and to capture wild animals for zoos. The expedition covers 22,000 miles in ten months. Among the scenic splendors encountered are the west coast of Africa, where beautiful beaches rival those in the South Pacific, and Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Many animals populate the vast African plains, including elephants, giraffes, topi, impala, Thompson's gazelles and lions. The expedition meets the people of the Basongo-Meno tribe, who use scarification to decorate their faces. Denis and Cotlow then travel into the Ituri forest in the Belgian Congo to visit pygmies, a people who still live as hunter-gatherers. Using arrows poisoned with strychnine, the pygmies' hunting skills enable them to kill animals as large as elephants. The expedition returns to the plains to search for hippopotamus, which they finally encounter after first seeing crocodiles, pelicans, marabou storks and a big-horned buffalo herd. Denis and Cotlow have heard about a secret hippo "hideout" from the natives and want to find it. Deep in the forest, they discover a beautiful pool, so clear that the hippos lying on the bottom can be easily seen. They rig up a glass-bottom boat for photography and film the beasts as they move slowly underwater. Vultures are present everywhere in Africa, eager to clean up the corpses left by predators. Irritated by their gluttony, the expedition members chase the birds in their car, sending them away screaming. On the Congo river, the expedition encounters the Wagenia and travels with them in their long canoes to elaborate fish traps that the tribe has built along the river. In the Congo, the expedition happens on a large gathering in honor of the coronation of a 300-pound Congo king. Among the celebrants are the Fulani, dressed like medieval crusaders, and another tribe, who bind their babies' heads to elongate them. The king, who is dressed in an elaborate embroidered costume, is seated on the back of a man who serves as a human throne. The tall Watusi, led by a seven-foot-tall chief, attend the celebration and perform a dance. After the ceremony, the expedition travels to British East Africa in search of game to replenish zoos depleted during the war. Aiding them is Carr Hartley, a northern Kenyan big game trapper and professional hunter. Denis and Cotlow suggest catching animals by lassoing them in the western United States manner and succeed in capturing giraffes and oryx by that method. An ostrich presents special problems, as it can disembowel a man with one blow of its claws. Meanwhile, at the camp, the natives have found an aardvark and its mate. Even the dogs join in when they corner a warthog. Next the trappers capture a zebra. Finally, with the help of the Masai, they go after a rhinoceros. The first rhino they chase charges their truck and overturns it, making his escape. They try again, and after much effort, succeed in capturing the animal, who tries desperately to escape from the compound at first, but finally adjusts to captivity. Their chores done, the Denis-Cotlow expedition team heads home.
Although this film was released in 35mm Technicolor, blown-up from 16mm Kodachrome, the viewed print was black-and-white. The onscreen credits erroneously list music director C. Bakaleinikoff's first initial as "E." Opening credits note that the film was made in the course of the Armand Denis-Lewis Cotlow African expedition. According to a April 4, 1951 Hollywood Reporter article, Armand Denis sued Lewis Cotlow, R. J. Reynolds and the NY Daily News over Camel cigarette ads that depicted Cotlow as the hero of Savage Splendor. Denis charged that Cotlow was in the United States during the time that the episodes excerpted for the ads were filmed. The disposition of that lawsuit is not known. According to modern sources, Savage Splendor was RKO's most profitable release of 1949, earning $250,000 at the box office.