- Composed by Henry Mancini
- Intrada / 2012 / 61:36
A curiosity of a film from Howard Hawks, 1962’s Hatari! chronicles the adventures of a group of people in Tanganyika (modern day Tanzania) who capture animals for western zoos. One of these people is John Wayne. Much of the film was reportedly improvised, since the animals’ behaviour couldn’t be predicted, and strung together into a narrative structure afterwards. The film proved quite popular at the time, though it rarely seems to pitch up today.
Hawks had forged a very successful partnership with composer Dimitri Tiomkin on many of his classic films – Red River, Land of the Pharaohs, Rio Bravo – but for some reason decided on Hatari! that big symphonic scores were not what he wanted any more. With Tiomkin unable to comprehend the director’s request to provide a score featuring traditional African sounds and “no violins” he departed the project and eventually Hawks settled on the young Henry Mancini as his composer of choice; Mancini was fresh off the tremendous success of Breakfast at Tiffany’s – “Moon River” and all that.
Mancini didn’t take Hawks’s request literally (there are violins) but certainly went for the tribal percussion in a big way. To be honest, it provides about as accurate a world view as something like Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise, but there’s something quite appealing about its quaint depiction of the savannah. Much of the dramatic portion of the score is drawn from ideas introduced in the first two cues, “The Sounds of Hatari” and “Main Title”. The percussion is everywhere – and gradually Mancini brings in his excellent main theme, a surprisingly sombre piece usually heard on horns.
Aside from key sequences underscored with the percussion and main theme, much of the music Mancini wrote is his trademark light source music. Highlights include the wonderful “Paraphrase”, the swing of “Big Band Bwana”, the delicate “Ice Bucket Blues” and various interpretations of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Just for Tonight”. The score’s final facet comes in its various comic interludes – “Your Father’s Feathers”, “Crocodile, Go Home!” and most famously, of course, “Baby Elephant Walk”. It managed to find a fame that has lasted well beyond that of the film, Mancini’s gift for catchy melodies serving him so well. The simple, bouncy, fun tune for clarinet and calliope has permeated the public conscious in a way that few other pieces of film music have; it’s so strange that such a tune should come from a film that most people these days have probably never even heard of – and I’m sure the man in the street wouldn’t know the name “Baby Elephant Walk” – but whistle him the tune and he’ll start humming along.
Famously, Mancini found great success in terms of album sales by presenting his scores of the 1960s as re-recorded light, easy listening albums focusing on source music and a big theme or two. Hatari! was one such album; this Intrada release is of course of the actual film recordings, and marks one of the first times one of Mancini’s scores of the era has been released in such a way. Ironically, there’s still an awful lot of very light source music here – the dramatic sections of the score are excellent, but all very samey. It’s a good, fun album but – its most famous tune aside – it would be a bit of a stretch to say it’s one of Mancini’s greatest. ***