Elsa Martinelli reads the article in Cinema Retro #23 about the filming of Howard Hawks' Hatari! (Photo copyright: Roland Schaefli. All rights reserved.
By Roland Schaefli
Martinelli checked out our “Hatari!” article in issue #23 of Cinema Retro while
attending the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, she enlightened us about
how she induced baby elephants to follow her around in the film. Not surprisingly,
we ended up following her everywhere. Here are a few highlights of one
of our discussions.
We did an article about the
making of “Hatari!” and how the locations look today.
Oh. They must have changed a lot.
that much. The Ngorongoro Crater (where the pre title sequence was shot) is
full of tourists, of course.
Back then, we were to first to actually go down there.
But you were very lucky to travel there nowadays. You know, we were there four
months and it wasn’t quite as comfortable as it looks today.
night, to honor you, the film festival showed your Italian movie “La Risaia”
which was produced by Carlo Ponti in 1956 – right after your first American film.
What kind of a feeling was that, to see yourself up there on the screen at the
very beginning of your international career?
Well, I’ve seen it before. It’s always something quite
particular. In a way I always look at myself like I was somebody else. And then
it happens that you say to yourself, “she could have done this” or “she could
have done it that way”. Yet mostly I say, “She was OK”. Like it was somebody
your experience as an actress now, would you play the part differently today?
I don’t think about that. What I DID think about was
the copy we got to see. We could not appreciate the scope and the beauty of the
color and so on. Because this was an old print, they obviously didn’t have the
new restored one which is much better. Too bad.
were actually one of the first fashion models to break into movies, which is
much more common now…
Well, I was really a photograph top model in New York.
With Eileen Ford, the great agency. I was just doing photos with some of their
great photographers, and they appeared in “Life” – I had two, no, three covers
in “Life”, and they appeared in “Vogue” – so it was difficult NOT to notice me (laughs).
That’s when I was approached by Kirk Douglas’ wife. He was producing this film
(“The Indian Fighter”). She was French so I was able to understand what she was
saying. And so I got started.
In his new and controversial
book “I Am Spartacus”, Kirk Douglas recounts how he cast the leading lady. He
was originally planning for you to play the part of “Varinia” but finally he
tore up your contract. What went wrong with Kirk Douglas?
Nothing went wrong. It was wonderful to work with him.
The thing was that I was getting ready to get my first baby. I just couldn’t
make it. I suppose somebody else would prefer “Spartacus” to having a baby. But
that was not my case.
from the fashion scene, it must have been something special to wear the
costumes designed by Edith Head for “Hatari!”.
Actually, all the costumes for the film were chosen by
Mr Hawks, like he always did. To him, the costumes were very important. He was always dressing the characters
accordingly. Think about Montgomery Clift in “Red River”, he stood out. He
dressed Gerard Blain the same way (in Hatari!). He had something similar in
mind for him, dressing him all in black. Unfortunately, Gerard was very
difficult, so Hawks cut a lot from his part. So, Hawks not only chose the
costumes of the females but also of the men.
Hawks was also one of the first directors to show women as self-confident in a
male group, even sexually aggressive.
But Hawks was a very sweet man, you see. He was a
strange man, a fantastic man to work with. But quite a hard man. He knew what
he wanted. So you had to be prepared: prepared to realize what he expected from
you. Usually, there was no script. But Welles also never had a script. Probably
some of the greatest stories in Hollywood films weren’t scripted to begin with.
Like some of the scenes in John Ford’s movies: you can’t script the way a horse
dies. So Hawks used to get on the set at 5 in the morning and write the lines
and tape them and as soon as you arrived he gave them to you. And you had to be
quite fast to memorize them.
you had to improvise a lot in the scenes with animals.
Actually I went there one month ahead of the others
just as the baby elephants were born. You see, the trick is to feed them right
away. That’s how you become their “mother”. So they got used to me and would
follow me everywhere. Nobody believes that’s true, but that’s it. When we came
back to Paramount to shoot the interiors, they put them in the San Diego Zoo.
And they were growing quite big. The last time I saw them one of them bumped me
in the knee.
beautiful music by Henry Mancini is still played around the world. What do you
think when you get to hear it somewhere?
The biggest surprise I got is when I went to Brazil. I
went to a very strange section of Rio to buy something. Suddenly, all these kids
came after me and sang the Baby Elephant March. Unbelievable, the way this
music travelled the world and is still so present. God knows how much music
Mancini has written. But that’s the one that sticks.
have acted with some of the great he-men of the screen: Wayne, Mitchum, Heston.
Can you even compare them to the actors of present day?
Yes, but there are some wonderful new actors. Sean
Penn is wonderful. There are so many great new actors, especially in the United
States. Don’t forget the Al Pacinos.
they’re not macho in a sense that Mitchum and Wayne were.
Of course it was different back then. John Wayne was
quite tall, much bigger than me. They were born that way. They didn’t have to
act macho. They were a special kind of people. Think of Gary Cooper, they were
all two meters tall! They were just physically built differently. I mean, they
didn’t have to go to the gym! (laughs)
was also quite different is that leading men and women were smoking in the
movies. You had your share of cigarettes on screen. We actually counted six
times you light up in “Hatari”.
In Bogart’s films, there were cigarettes all over the
place! Nowadays, there would be a sign saying “No smoking”. Look, we all smoked
back then. I myself really stopped 9 years ago, from one day to another. I just
got tired to it and said “Basta”. Of course, to smoke in a movie is a question
You’re still working in film.
What can attract you to a project?
It’s always the story, that comes first. You see, I
took many chances in cinema. I’ve made movies with directors who never did
direct before, at least five or six films with novice directors. Because
whenever I read a story I always know there is a director somewhere behind it.
That’s when I like to take risks…
like to take a chance.
Yes, because if it’s a special story I sense that
somebody special might be behind it.
(Roland Schaefli, Swiss contributor to Cinema Retro, visited the African locations seen in Hatari!. His extensive report about the locations today and the making of the film appear in Cinema Retro issue #23. Click here to purchase from our eBay store.)