Cast & Crew
This documentary chronicles the journey of filmmaker Armand Denis and his wife Michaela though central and southern Africa. The Denises first stop on the plains of British East Africa and, from a specially constructed platform hidden in a tree top, film various wild animals, including antelope and elephants. When they spy a dead antelope draped over a high tree branch, they realize it is the kill of a leopard and wait for the cat to return to claim it. When it returns, the leopard pulls the antelope down to the ground and begins to eat. The next morning, one of the expedition's porters is stalked and attacked by the leopard, but his cries bring help and he is rescued. By plane, the Denises travel south to Victoria Falls and observe a lake swarming with flamingos. On an island off the southern coast, near Cape Town, flocks of gannets are shown, followed by footage of jackass penguins. The expedition then travels north, up the rugged southwest coast. There, the Denises, with help from some local fishermen, capture a large male sea lion and extract a blood sample from it, to be used in a scientific study. After scaling seaside granite cliffs to film vulture nests, Denis and his group head back to the interior. They are welcomed by various tribes, including the Turkana, who entertain them with ceremonial dancing. As the Denises prepare to leave, the chief of one tribe presents them with two, half-tame cheetahs. The Denises fly to their next stop, Carr Hartley's animal farm, and spend Christmas there. They also meet eccentric Englishman Raymond Hook, who trains cheetahs for a living. Hook demonstrates his training techniques, including how to use the cats to trap other wild animals, such as gazelle, and gives the Denises' cheetahs some lessons. One thousand miles to the south, the Denises visit an ostrich farm, where Michaela learns how to ride an ostrich like a horse. From the farm, the couple heads for their final destination, a jungle village where the natives are at "war" with man-killing gorillas. They travel first by ox cart, then by boat, filming many animals such as crocodiles, elephants, hippopotami, water buffalo and pelicans. After observing a group of Pygmies gorging themselves on a honey nest buzzing with bees, they walk deeper into the equatorial forest, to the village of the gorilla hunters. There, they persuade the warriors to allow them to accompany them on their gorilla hunt, during which they hope to capture a baby gorilla. Using nets, spears and one-hundred-year-old muskets, the warriors trap and kill two adult gorillas and carry them triumphantly back to the village, where they are skinned and eaten. The Denises catch a baby ape and prepare to take it back to the United States with them. Their journey at an end, the Denises then bid farewell to the continent of Africa.
This film was shot in 16mm Kodachrome, then blown up to 35mm for theatrical release. The viewed print was black-and-white. Many reviewers commented on the familiarity of the film's subject matter, noting that producer-director Armand Denis had made two earlier pictures about Africa, the 1938 Universal release Dark Rapture (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40) and the 1949 RKO film Savage Splendor, which also featured Carr Hartley (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Some of Denis' previous films were co-produced with his first wife, Leila Roosevelt. Although Motion Picture Almanac release charts list a general release date of May 30, 1953, the earliest press screening occurred on 29 May, making the 30 May release date unlikely. As noted in Variety, a special benefit screening of the film was held in New York on September 1, 1953, the proceeds of which went to the American Museum of Natural History.