Bozo the killer

The feature-length silent film The Night Cry premiered in 1926. The star and hero of the movie was the famous dog Rin Tin Tin, who had top billing. The villain was a California condor, who received no acknowledgment by name or photograph in the movie’s credits or on the movie’s poster.

01 Movie title

In the film, “Rinty”, working with a shepherd, is wrongly accused of killing sheep. But the real killer is the condor and Rin Tin Tin is out to get the bird and protect his flock.

02 Description of condor

The movie’s title refers to the condor’s scream, heard throughout the film. The sound reminds me of fighting house cats and is a complete fabrication. California condors make no such noise and, furthermore, are not active at night.

Throughout the movie there are many close-ups of the condor: perching, walking, and spreading its wings. We also see the bird taking off, flying short distances (always flapping), and landing.

As the movie reaches its climax, the condor flies off with a toddler, the daughter of Rin Tin Tin’s master.
03 Condor carrying off baby
This is also a fiction as California condors lack the ability to grasp, let alone carry a child of any size.

The part of the condor was played by “Bozo”, a sub-adult bird.

04 Condor close-up

Sanford Wilbur’s excellent Nine Feet from Tip to Tip includes a brief biography of Bozo. She was captured in 1923 while just several months old. Until her death in 1928, she was exhibited at a private zoo that also provided animals for films. Bozo’s preserved remains are now in the collection of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County as specimen number LACM 15885.

In her biography of Rin Tin Tin, Susan Orlean describes the villain of The Night Cry as having been

… played by the only giant condor in captivity at that time, a cold-eyed, hunchbacked creature named Bozo.

I have yet to verify whether Bozo was, in fact, the only California condor in captivity in 1926.

In a brief, recent review of The Night Cry, Jon Lewis identified the condor actor as “Baldy”. But I have not encountered other mentions of this name.

Unfortunately, this movie perpetuated a negative view of California condors, a view that contributed to their near extinction. But The Night Cry was not alone in portraying the condor in a negative light (more about this in future posts).

The Night Cry was written by Ewart Adamson and directed by Herman C. Raymaker for Warner Bros. The images above are screen captures from my copy of the DVD version of the film, released by Grapevine Video in 2011.

Orlean, Susan. Rin Tin Tin: the life and the legend. Simon and Schuster. 2011.

Lewis, Jon. Buster Keaton takes spotlight in 5th annual Silent Film Festival. After
Five [Redding]. October 2010.

Wilbur, Sanford R. Nine feet from tip to tip: the California condor through history. Volume 2. Symbios. 2012.