Here’s yet another film that I simply cannot understand why it was nominated for Best Picture. I mean, if I were given a reason from the 1930s, I might understand it, but I certainly would not agree with it; that reason, I’d assume, being principally the novelty of this film and little else. Trader Horn is apparently the first film shot on location in Africa, or at least the first non-documentary film. Some of that statement may not be entirely correct, as supposedly some of it was shot on a studio lot, and then that footage was removed and replaced with the original Africa stuff to make the film’s claim that much more reputable, but hey; some film’s gotta be the first, right? Now, does that statement, that this is the first film shot on location in Africa, make you want to watch Trader Horn? If not, you might be wanting a little more to help sell you on this film. Lemme give you a summary of what else Trader Horn has to offer you… That’s it. It’s the novelty, and nothing else.
Aloysius Horn is a trader in Africa, which basically means he goes up and down rivers and from settlement to settlement trading goods with the native people. Alongside him is Peru, his ward, who’s basically there to serve as the audience insert character and as the more naive companion of the experienced Horn. During one of their expeditions, they come across Edith Trent, who is in Africa searching for her daughter, who was lost during a missionary exploit some years ago. When Horn and Peru later find Trent’s body killed by savages, they take up her cause themselves, and find the now-adult Nina as the ‘White Goddess’ of a native tribe. From there, they try to bring her back to civilized society, if they can survive the African wilderness without their weapons. I want to reiterate what I said in the opener, in case that plot synopsis gave you any false pretenses; aside from the fact that this was shot in Africa, there’s basically nothing to really watch this one for. If you don’t mind the mild spoilers, after they make it away from Nina’s tribe, most of the rest of the film consists of them trying to survive in the wild, with very little actual plot that takes place, to the point that I began to wonder where the film was going, if anywhere at all. It feels a lot like padding the film’s length, because that’s what it basically is, and it’s made even more abundantly clear by the (once again) lack of a musical score, though I don’t give the film enough credit to be able to wow me had it had a score to begin with. Besides that, this is all about Africa, and the selling point of shooting there, and the film really doubles down on this in any and every way it can. For instance, there’s a segment a little less than halfway through that consists entirely of Horn pointing out animals and animal behavior to Peru, and it comes across largely as a nature documentary, and an entirely perfunctory one at that. It lasts for quite a while, and serves only as a way for the filmmakers to say, “Hey, audience, look: we really filmed in Africa! How novel is that!” There is also a part in this section that has Horn killing a rhino that charges the group, that was apparently done for real, so heads up to any animal lovers.
I was particularly bored watching this, especially in the 21st century. It was long, too long, and the plot of the film wasn’t nearly enough to warrant the film’s two-hour running time. Not to mention, yet again, that there was basically nothing to this one aside from its shooting location, and that the film focused entirely on this one selling point made it all the more weak because of it. It reminded me an awful lot of Chang from the 1st Academy Awards, and really, I ended up giving this the same rating as that for pretty much identical reasons. Here’s hoping that the early sound, pre-Code era ends up evolving away from doing films like this and into much more worthy fare.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10