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Simba, king of beasts : a saga of the African veldt

Identifier: Film Collection no. 276

Scope and Contents

Filmed during the AMNH Martin Johnson African Expedition, 1924-1928. The museum holds five different versions of this American classic film Simba, King of Beasts: A Saga of the African Veldt. They vary in length, have black-and-white or tinted stock, are silent or with musical sound-track, and may have a talking prologue. The version discussed here begins with elegantly dressed Martin and Osa Johnson extolling the marvels of modern technology: talking pictures. A classic coat-of-arms featuring a lion ("simba" means "lion" in Swahili) actually begins the body of the film. The Johnson caravan of trucks, wagons, camels, and porters travels toward their destination, Lake Paradise near Mt. Massabit in northern Kenya. After fording crocodile-infested rivers the expedition reaches the lake and photographs the camp and surrounding flora and fauna. Flash pots for night-time shooting are set up to be triggered by animals visiting the water hole. The resulting still pictures are incorporated into the film. An extensive sequence on elephant behavior is climaxed by a stampede, brought on by a brush fire. Interspersed are shots of the Johnsons filming the stampede with an Akeley camera (some of the elephant material here is repeated). George Eastman, expedition sponsor, is seen visiting with Osa when the excitement is over. The indigenous people of the area, the Samburu, Boran, Turkana, Meru, and Kikuyu, are all presented as one tribal group, first experiencing a drought, then celebrating when rain falls. Herds of East African plains animals are well photographed in this film. In one obviously faked shot Osa finally shoots a rhinoceros that has been charging her. There is a lovely study of giraffe behavior featuring the creatures running in both fast and slow motion. Dorobo hunters arrive to tell the Johnsons that large numbers of lion have been sighted in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), so the expedition heads south and extensive footage of lion behavior is seen. The Johnsons arrive in a Lumbwa (i.e. Kipsigis) village where lions have been marauding and so begins the saga of Simba. A "consignment of brides" (in fact, a group of initiates in purdah) are seen carrying bundles of sticks, usually carried to warn men of their presence. The excitement of their arrival is dampened because Simba has killed the chief's best bull. The final sequence is of a lion spearing hunt by Lumbwa men, and footage of Masai or Nandi spearing lions is spliced in. The lion-spearing section of the film is a conglomerate of footage. Carl Ethan Akeley met the Johnsons in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) to film the hunt, and in post-production work on the film, footage taken by Alfred J. Klein (see index) was included. Though the sequence lacks integrity (first Lumbwa spear a lion, then Nandi spear a lioness), it is an exciting and appropriate climax to Simba. After Osa shoots a lion (another obviously faked shot) she returns to camp to bake an apple pie for Martin.


  • c1928

Language of Materials



1 Film Reel (75 minutes) : sound, black and white ; 35 mm.

1 Videocassette (U-Matic (75 minutes)) : sound, black and white ; 3/4 in.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

3/4 in., U-Matic, viewing copy


Original format: 35 mm. print.



Martin and Osa Johnson, producers; Martin Johnson, Carl Akeley, and Alfred J. Klein, photographers; Terry Ramsaye, editor; RCA Photophone Recordings, sound.

Simba, king of beasts : a saga of the African veldt, 1928
Iris Lee
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
(212) 769-5420