I am a cinephile at heart and if I ever find myself with a free Sunday afternoon and a good movie on the television, it’s a done deal. I will even watch movies I have seen before just to enjoy them again. Recently we had The Bridge on the River Kwai and this Sunday just gone had a classic film – Hatari!, the 1962 gem about a group of eclectic expatriates collecting big game animals for the world’s zoos in Ngorongoro crater in what was then Tanganyika. It stars my absolute favourite actor, John Wayne and the talented ensemble of Hardy Kruger, Red Buttons, Elsa Martinelli, Gerard Blain, Michele Giradon, Bruce Cabot and Valentin de Vargas as well as the beautiful animals. The lodge where it was filmed is still there, named Hatari Lodge naturally and I would love to stay there one day.
There is something very nostalgic about watching these old movies. You can recognise that they are not as politically aware or nuanced as we have come to see in today’s efforts but on the other hand, there is more time spent on telling a good story rather than special effects. I have been trying to figure out why I have such a strong reaction to these sorts of movies generally and more specifically why I cannot walk away if a classic John Wayne movie is on. I think it has to do with my grandfather.
My maternal grandfather was a giant of a man, metaphorically and literally. Standing well over 6’ even in old age, he had lived a full life; working in smallgoods in Newcastle, serving in a senior position in the Freemasons, riding speedway motorcycles, marrying my grandma and then retiring to living on the shores of Lake Macquarie on a huge property in a large white house with a colonnade that belonged on a plantation in the South rather than on a lake in Australia.
My childhood memories of him are composed mostly of him sitting in his orange chair in the kitchen, the sweeping view down the lawn to the lake’s edge behind him, while he watches one of these classic movies on his small white rotary dial television. The house contained many art deco and 1960’s antiques as well as a family bible that looked 200 years old. All these were removed from the house by my uncle when my grandfather passed away and never seen again. Nice guy!! But I digress.
Since my grandma passed away when I was very young, my pop had this big old house and property all to himself so took it upon himself to run a regular happy hour where the neighbours were welcome, in fact, expected to come over and help him polish off various bottles of alcoholic beverages, including his infamous choko wine. Yes, you read that correctly, homemade choko wine, but in some parts of the world, its better known by its industrial name, reactor vessel coolant liquid. That stuff was deadly and if not radioactive, was certifiably explosive as I can attest to. It’s probably why he switches to beer in his later years.
Apart from watching these old classics, another thing that solidifies my association of my pop with John Wayne and his era is the travelling my pop did. He visited Hong Kong, Singapore, Papua New Guinea and Las Vegas in his time and back then these places seemed exotic and a million miles away so you could only see them in the movies or in magazines. He did this travelling back when it was expensive and rare, and when I picture him in my mind, with his cane, cap and old style airline bag knocking back a cooling beer while watching the world go by, I cannot help but imagine him happy to be living life but missing his darling Margaret dearly.
He also loved a good western and when I would go exploring through his cupboards and wardrobes, as curious boys are want to do, I would come across thick dusty paperbacks with gunslingers on the covers. Surely John Wayne is the stereotypical cowboy? And my pop revered him and his type as much as me it seems.
Now that my grandfather has passed away and the mementos and knick-knacks of his travels have disappeared with my uncle, I am only left with my memories and the feelings I get when I sit down on a warm Sunday afternoon and settle in to watch the Duke in Technicolour lassoing a rhino in the Tanzanian savannah.