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  Where No Vultures Fly But There Is A Bloody Big Elephant
Year: 1951
Director: Harry Watt
Stars: Anthony Steel, Dinah Sheridan, Harold Warrender, Meredith Edwards, William Simons, Orlando Martins, Phillip Birkinshaw
Genre: Drama, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: East Africa, and the need for game reserves is growing ever more pressing, especially in this region where Bob Payton (Anthony Steel) works. It is his unwelcome task to shoot the animals to keep them under control, and given that there are plenty of rich and powerful men who like to visit so they can bag plenty of the beasts themselves, there are now dangers that many species could become endangered. What if Payton could stem this flow, stop the poachers and big game hunters by creating a place where the animals were safe? It has happened elsewhere, so why not here? Therefore he sets to work on establishing such a park, to allow elephants, lions, buffalo and others to exist without the fear of being slaughtered. However, he will meet opposition from the hunters, both legal and illegal...

Ealing certainly got about, and between trips abroad to France and Australia they ventured to Africa, in this instance countries like Kenya and Nigeria which genuinely were struggling with the problem of illegal hunting - and indeed still are, despite the optimistic note this film ended on that hoped the animals and environment would be saved by now. This was actually a story with a conscience, which offered it more resonance than a simple big game yarn like Hollywood's Hatari, for example, where we were invited to share the real concern the filmmakers had for the fauna of Africa and not dismiss its potential extinction as somebody else’s problem. This affected us all, it stated, and if you turned a blind eye, or even encouraged it, then you were to blame.

In that way it was a picture with a more modern sensibility than many of its more contemporary efforts, as the conservation issues it dealt with have never gone away, though in others it remained anchored to its era. As a precursor to something like Born Free, it proved a major hit in Britain, and secured Steel's stardom as one of the most popular actors of the nineteen-fifties, a handsome, strapping chap who should have consolidated this into a lasting career, but his alcoholism, brawling and womanising ended up sabotaging it and after a brief run of hits, he ended up in sexploitation items once his looks faded, eventually trapped in obscurity and poverty for his later years. It was a sad end for a man who was his own worst enemy; not hugely talented as an actor, but many have done more with less.

Here he played the adventure dad to his family, with Dinah Sheridan his wife who tolerates living in a tent on this new reserve but can only take so much - a lioness threatening her enthusiastic but naïve son is almost the final straw for her, until Payton talks her down. If anything, there were too many concerns stuffed into its near-two hour running time, as we had to contend with the poachers, great white hunters who think they owned the place, local tribes bringing diseased livestock to threaten the existing wildlife, officialdom bearing down on what was by no means a popular idea, and so on. What was cheering was that these were shown to be able to be coped with, and a dose of action thrown in as well; nowadays this sort of animal footage is largely relegated to documentaries and there's nothing wrong with that, but works like Where No Vultures Fly were valuable in that without them, conservation drives would not have taken off in the same way. Followed by a sequel, West of Zanzibar. Music by Alex Rawsthorne (which spawned a hit single from Steel!).

[Network release this on Blu-ray with an interview featurette, trailer, gallery and subtitles as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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