Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive - DAKTARI - Seasons 1 and 3 ""

Monday, July 7, 2014

Warner Archive - DAKTARI - Seasons 1 and 3

DAKTARI - Seasons 1 (1966), and Season 3 (1967-68)
Like a lot of until-recently-scarcely-available 1960s television, I first came to DAKTARI through the theme music. It was on a compilation of 60s TV themes that I used to listen to over and over. I am a big fan of 60s music along these lines so I couldn't get enough. Though I hadn't seen a frame of the show, the music gave me a sense of what I thought it might be like. It seemed to take place in the deep dark jungle and felt laid back and groovy yet adventurous. An obvious analysis would have been that it sounded like HATARI - the TV show. 
Marshall Thompson plays the titular Daktari and I love that casting. I was already on board with Thompson before I ever saw this show (though it must be the role that people know him best from). I knew him from things like THE FIEND WITHOUT A FACE, LURE OF THE SWAMP (which needs a DVD release btw) and IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE. He never felt like a heavy hitter type actor, but he was remarkably affable and well suited to the roles I had seen him in so that elevated him in my eyes going into watching this show for the first time. He's kinda like Tim Robbins crossed with Gary Cooper or something. He's quite good here and clearly a good-sized part of the reason for the success of the show.

I must say, I can see why this show was popular in its day. Just watching a few interactions between the main actors and Judy the chimp (and Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion) is still delightfully amusing. Judy is quite the character and has more energy and pizazz than most primates I've ever seen in TV or movies. Judy even does some kinda dangerous stunt work in the show from time to time. For this reason (& perhaps others), DAKTARI is not a show that could be made today. Its overall message is certainly one of kindness and compassion for animals, but in practice, the show puts then through some rough paces on occasion. That said, as much as I morally disagree with putting animals potentially in harms way, I do miss the times when film and TV productions still did use live animals more often. I always come back to a story Allan Arkush has told about showing his kids HATARI! and making sure to point out to them that "That is not a CG rhino" only to have them later show the film to some of their friends and echo back his remark. There's something truly cinematic and special to capturing real, live animals in action - especially those that are relatively exotic such as the ones used in DAKTARI. It is a very transportative thing to see animals and actors interacting with animals that are more common in some other part of the world. Sure we've all been to the zoo and see lions and chimpanzees, but gone is the time when they were a regular part of television programs and movies. There is of course the old adage of "never work with animals or children", which could certainly have fed into them being used less when a CG alternative can be generated with much more ease and specificity of behavior (albeit at a much greater cost). All that said, we are getting to be far enough removed from seeing these animals in shows that it was quite refreshing for me to go back and revisit DAKTARI-land. I am given a small sense of what it must have been like for audiences seeing the program when it was first airing. First off, it's hard not to be charmed by the shenanigans of both Judy the chimp and Clarence the lion.
Warner Archive has mucho amounts of DAKTARI currently available. Beyond the three seasons currently out on DVD (season 3 just came out), the entire first season of the show us up on the Warner Archive streaming service (& in HD!). Season one is a good time all around (though the episodes get stronger further in), but my favorite episode was "The Diamond Smugglers" which featured the great Paul Winfield as a guest star.
Season three is solid as well, my favorite episode being a two parter called "The Elephant Raid". Two-part episodes are always cool especially with an hour long show like this. You're basically getting TV-movie. And nice I have expressed my love for the "animals attack" genre on multiple occasions, it should be Bo surprise that an episode about a herd of stampeding wild elephants would be up my alley. This episode guest stars Kenneth Tobey, an always welcome familiar face. In his episode, Tobey is the man with the much maligned plan to stop the rampaging herd and it involves pressure sensitive land mines, grenades and other artillery. Daktari and crew have other ideas for a solution.
Seasons 1-3 of DAKTARI can be purchased via Warner Archive:
And, as I mentioned, season one is also available to stream in HD via Warner Archive Instant:

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