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Bring 'Em Back Alive (1932) Is Uncaged Precode Fury

... and Red Meat It Was, As Showmen Knew Their Bloodthirsty Youth Audience

Frank Buck was the Great White Bwana of adventuring through first-half of a century bent on explore of whatever lost corners were left. He was dashing and mustachioed and could wrestle a baby elephant to standstill, as evidenced in Bring 'Em Back Alive, a Malayan travel folder where Buck hunts game for Bring-back to zoos and whatever pitch might be interested in jungle exotica. "Frank Buck" was an ideal name to go native with, and lo/behold, it was really his, Frank as Buck evoking a male animal stalking other male animals he'd subdue. Frank was less for killing beasts than photographing them killing each other. He'd just pick up pieces and deliver to brisk buyers back home, latter which included distribs who'd sell him as latter-day Trader Horn, not the bearded old-timer as was Horn of Africa, but hale-and-hearty master of wild who'd belie his age (late 40's and into 50's at a peak) to wade into whatever danger his camera crew came upon. Bring 'Em Back Alive was the book, and then movie, that made Buck boxoffice, in addition to claw-and-fang, legend. RKO socked over a million in worldwide rentals during a Depression year when most of what they sent out did half that, or less. Success of Bring 'Em Back Alive made King Kong of the following season seem viable. I'd go further and say that had there been no hit that was Bring 'Em Back Alive, there might not have been a King Kong at all.

Genius Seller Terry Turner Spent $10K of 1932 Dollars For This Display 
Bring 'Em Back Alive traded both on best-selling source book by Frank Buck and roaring hit that was Trader Horn. There too were fleabag jungle pics, purest exploitation like Blonde Captive and Ingagi, that nibbled around edges. All these were precode in a most extreme sense, but scholars of that period shy from them today, possibly because the theme is a hot match to play with. There's little aspect of these that could now be approached, what with attitudes so utterly changed over intervening decades. But what other precodes dealt such brazen nudity as Bring 'Em Back Alive and kin? Fact it was native skin on exhibit made the device OK to censors, a same pass that rendered National Geographic rare print outlet for polite display of flesh. And note the crowd across streets from New York's Mayfair, agog at the theatre's spectacle front mightier than a circus in full swing. What Bring 'Em Back Alive gave that a zoo or circus could not was wildest life in natural habitat, and preying on each other. No way could animal acts on civilized ground pit beasts against their kind, or other enemies of the jungle, and all for our startled amusement (most magic selling words: IN MORTAL COMBAT). Only movies dared deliver this kind of thrill, and that's what separated Bring 'Em Back Alive from staid viewing at fairgrounds. Call it rudest precode, then, and not unlike same-year Freaks, which took human specimen from unchecked nature and dared us to watch them with no bars between.

Memory played trick --- still does --- that Bring 'Em Back Alive was shot in Africa, when it was actually Malaya, where there was ferocity aplenty to go round. Frank was not for bagging beasts, as in lion heads, rugs, or zebra skins. He was more the Hatari! man before there was a Hatari!. I'll guess that Howard Hawks knew Buck and remembered his saga when chase after rhinos commenced in early 60's mash-up of Bring 'Em Back Alive that became Hatari!. Frank was known, in fact seen, and in person, by most who frequented circuses and World Fairs, for he was tireless at spreading legend that was Frank Buck. Anytime he cared to make a movie, someone was there to write a check, for Buck dealt liveliest footage of animals ripping hell out of one another and frequently to the death. Youngsters could fairly smell jungle blood in their Bijou seats. King Kong was well and good, but it was fake after all, while Buck's tiger v. python, lion v. whatever, even where staged or at least sweetened, was the real and savage thing. I looked at Bring 'Em Back Alive, a recent run on TCM, and lost all track of time when that Bengal tiger locked teeth with a strangulating python, a thrill still in 2017, so just imagine pants wet when this thing played new in 1932.

Bring 'Em Back For a Fresh Audience in 1948, Grossing Still Alive and Lively

And Still They Came ... Even Unto Code Era
Bring 'Em Back Alive became stuff of lore, like King Kong as a linger in consciousness. RKO brought it back in 1948 and did $345K in domestic rentals, a wow for a picture this old. By-then venerable Frank, still khaki-ready, did personal apps up/down the Coast with RKO's Eastern field supervisor (Variety, 8-5-48). For kids of a new generation, Buck was still grand emissary of wildest kingdoms. Movies had still not topped him for jungle life in the raw, though King Solomon's Mines would shortly unseat Frank's brand. For meantime at least, Bring 'Em Back Alive's reissue got credit for an uptick in jungle thrillers, as MGM and RKO found to profit of old Tarzans revived, plus library Sabus from the 30's that UA/Korda tendered. They'd even want Frank back to play himself, and with Abbott and Costello, for Africa Screams!, done shortly before Buck headed toward horizon in 1950. I checked for DVD's on the seven films Frank Buck did, at least those built around his travels, and none seem available from mainstream labels (Grapevine Video has Bring 'Em Back Alive, and disc reviews are good). There should be easier access to all of it, but who'd care? With nowaday up-close and digital inspect of wildlife round the globe, Frank Buck's stuff looks punk indeed, but he was among first getting there, and there's no beating primitive energy these travelogues still have.

This post first appeared on Greenbriar Picture Shows, please read the originial post: here

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