Mar 19, 2013

Visit to a Chief's Son: American-African Romance

When I was a kid, Western-Indian homoromantic pairs were everywhere, from Jonny and Hadji on Jonny Quest to Terry and Raji on Maya.  But there were very few Western-African pairs.  The only one I can think of is Kevin and Codonyo in Visit to a Chief's Son (1974).

American anthropologist Robert (Richard Mulligan, who would go on to star in Soap with Jimmy Baio) travels to Kenya, ostensibly to photograph the 1973 solar eclipse, but really intending to photograph a secret Masai ritual.  He arrives full of colonial ideas about white civilization and African savagery.   Chief Lomoiru is not impressed.

But the real story is about the romance between Robert's son Kevin (John Phillip Hogdon), who was 14, my age, and the chief's son, Codonyo (Jesse Kinaru).  They walk through the savannah and see herds of animals; they go skinny-dipping; they hug; all to a lushly romantic score by Francis Lai.

Their interaction is aggressively physical; they can't keep their hands off each other. They even sleep together.

Soon we realize that the real "savage" is Kevin: he is a nature boy, untouched by civilization.  He gets the most frontal and rear nude scenes, including a close up of his bare butt.

Codonyo, who is usually fully clothed, is the civilized one, teaching Kevin the traditions and history of the Masai. In the end he "goes native," to the consternation of his father.

John Phillip Hogdon and Jesse Kinaru have no other film credits.  Robert Halmi, who wrote the original 1963 novel, was a nature photographer who found a new career in producing movies, mostly takes on classics like Gulliver's Travels (1996), Moby Dick (1998), and The Arabian Nights (2000).  Director Lamont Johnson selected mostly high-concept problem movies, like That Certain Summer (1972), about a teenager (Scott Jacoby) who discovers that his dad is gay.