In 1906, Margarete Trappe, a hunter, emigrated to German East Africa to run a farm with her husband: During her time there, she was considered the “Mother of the Maasai,” a native East African tribe. She became a legend even during her lifetime. Her fate is not unlike that of Tania Blixen.
Four years after her death, her son leased the farm property to Paramount Pictures: Howard Hawks shot the 1961 film Hatari! there, starring Hardy Krüger and John Wayne. During the filming, Krüger discovered his passion for the East African landscape idyll. The film is about a trapping crew that captures animals for European zoos in East Africa.
For weeks, Paramount Studios pondered how to make the trapping scenes as realistic as possible: The solution was to have the actors catch the animals “live” in front of the camera.
Krüger’s bush hotel
After the end of filming, Krüger took part in maintaining the farm and ran the Momella Game Lodge there. Hardy Krüger gave up his dream of owning a farm in Germany and instead started running a bush hotel in Africa.
Momella Lodge still exists today, but its golden days are long gone: The Tanzania that Hardy Krüger got to see in the sixties already had little to do with the idyll that Margarete Trappe explored at the beginning of the 20th century. Almost 120 years after Margarete Trappe’s trip to German East Africa and 60 years after the filming of Hatari!, all that remains of that time is the brick fireplace in front of which Hardy Krüger and John Wayne swirled their whiskey glasses and discussed the next safari.
International career and stereotypes
Hardy Krüger was one of the few German actors who were granted an international career after World War II.
Krüger was especially popular in English-language films as a Wehrmacht officer: his appearance was identified by international cinema audiences as typically German and often pinned him down to a particular type of role.
But Hardy Krüger had the most success with films in which he played a role far from this stereotypical role image. In Hatari!, for example, he did not play a Wehrmacht officer, but a racing driver who is part of the capturing team in East Africa.
With his roles, Hardy Krüger represented post-World War II Germany on the big screen: in the sixties, it was anything but ordinary for a German actor to play alongside John Wayne. Other German actors – such as Marlene Dietrich – had to take a different path to become successful in the film industry, but Hardy Krüger remained as he was: In the sixties and seventies, international cinema could make good use of actors of Hardy Krüger’s caliber.
Not only American productions
In the film The Red Tent [Krasnaja palatka / La tenda rossa, 1969], a Soviet-Italian co-production, Hardy Krüger played the role of the aviator Einar Lundborg. The film is about the fate of Italian airship pioneer Umberto Nobile, who made the first attempt to reach the North Pole in an airship. Other leading roles were played by Sean Connery and Claudia Cardinale. The music of the Italian version was composed by Ennio Morricone, that of the Soviet version by Alexander Sazepin.
Hardy Krüger’s film work wasn’t limited to German and American films: although he frequently appeared in American productions, he maintained a certain distance from the Hollywood film industry apart from these productions.
He himself said that he was discovered in London – where he starred in The One That Got Away in 1957. A little later he came to the attention of the French cinema…
A special role
Just as Krüger was about to take the plane to East Africa to shoot Hatari!, he was intercepted at the Paris airport by French producer Romain Pinès: Pinès told him that he was now offering him the most beautiful film role of his life so far. He was talking about the leading role in Sundays and Cybele [Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray, 1962], which was completely different from any role Krüger had played before. In the film, Krüger took on the role of Pierre, who is struggling with war trauma from the Indochina War.
The film was the motion picture debut of documentarian Serge Bourguignon, who directed the film.
Without a doubt, it is one of the most profound films starring Hardy Krüger: the emotionally charged plot leaves the viewer in a troubled state and, unlike many Hollywood flicks, there is no happy ending in Sundays and Cybele.
It was not without reason that the film won the Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 1963 Academy Awards.
Hardy Krüger continued to appear as an actor in numerous American and European film productions until the 1980s: He starred alongside American cinema legends such as John Wayne and James Stewart: In the airplane drama The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) a classic of adventure cinema, Hardy Krüger starred alongside James Stewart. In the mercenary film The Wild Geese (1978), Hardy Krüger starred alongside Roger Moore, Richard Burton and Stewart Granger.
Although Hardy Krüger himself once said he didn’t think much of war films, he regularly appeared in them: The film studios saw in Hardy Krüger the archetypal Wehrmacht soldier, as he could be well used in many American and English productions.
Instead, he saw himself as a cosmopolitan who was at home in Africa, Germany and California, and who did not want to commit himself to any specific type of role.
With his broad repertoire of roles and his cosmopolitan acting style, Hardy Krüger has a firm place among the German screen legends of the 20th century.
Cover picture: © Simon von Ludwig