Married adventure

The River of Death was shot by and features another married couple of travelers in 1930. Here, though, the wife is the director and the kids stay at home.

Contemporaries of the Rosses, Aloha and Walter Wanderwell were one of several popular married couples recording their travel exploits in writing and on film. (Others include Martin and Osa Johnson and Hugo and Emmy Bernatzik.) Having started out as “Captain” Wanderwell’s assistant in 1922, the slim, tall Aloha became his wife and co-star on the travel lecturing circuit within three years.

The River of Death is Aloha Wanderwell’s only sound film, showing the Wanderwells on their 1930-31 trip to the Mato Grosso region in Brazil, where they went to look for the missing explorer Percy Fawcett. Not unlike Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien!, small pockets of domesticity, like Aloha cooking, mingle with the travelogue’s customary ingredients of spectacular sights and exotic rituals. The editing and narration, furthermore, are not above creating suspense by juxtaposing shots of threatening wildlife with those of the traveler-protagonists. The Wanderwell children, born in 1925 and 1927, were not brought along, though.

The Wanderwells used to provide live narration to their silent films In this sound film, however, we only hear Aloha, as Walter Wanderwell had been murdered on his yacht in 1932. Aloha Wanderwell remarried and continued traveling, filmmaking, and lecturing throughout the 1930s.1

Joachim Schätz

Aloha Wanderwell. The River of Death
USA: Ideal Pictures Corp., N.Y., 1934.
b&w | sound | 29’

Topic: The Ross Family
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30


1 Mike Mashon. The films of Aloha Wanderwell Baker: An archival collaboration. In: Now see hear. The National Audio-Visual Conservation Center Blog. 2015 Mar 25.

Scroll to page top