High Spade: “We’ve hit a lot of towns, Lin. What makes you think he’ll be here?
Lin McAdam: “He’ll be here.”
High Spade: “We’ve been wrong before.”
Lin McAdam: “He’ll be here.”
High Spade: “On account of that?” [High Spade indicates the Winchester ’73 rifle that is the top prize at Dodge City’s Fourth of July shooting competition]
Lin McAdam: “If he isn’t here already, that gun’ll bring him.”
[Millard Mitchell to James Stewart, “Winchester 73” (1950)]
In the animal kingdom there are two opposing groups consisting of predators and prey. These same types of groups also exist for aquatic creatures and insects too. A predator or “hunter” does so in order to continue to exist even killing other weaker predators as a food source. If they do not consume such food, the predators will ultimately starve, die, and their species will cease to exist. Of course, other creatures can subsist on a plant-based diet, and do not necessarily have to kill other living creatures in order to survive, hence they will generally be the prey or those “hunted.” However, for us humans, it is quite different. While we can hunt other creatures for either food or other reasons, we also have situations where we can hunt each other too. Now in this case, it is almost never as a food source (unless one is a budding cannibal in disguise). If an individual or individuals hunt someone or something else, it is done in various ways and for various reasons, isn’t it? Whether you may realize it or not, this type of activity has been an extremely popular one for numerous television series or motion pictures. It is a subject that I will explore further for this month’s Blog Post.
A number of films that could easily fit into the above category would be dramas with an individual hunting various dangerous big game and where, sometimes, they could become the hunted instead. However, these types of actions in films were often more of a side issue than the actual main storyline. Also, sometimes such films, while possibly entertaining, were either shallow or just weak melodramas. For example, you had “Track of the Cat” (1954), a weird, pseudo-Western about a ranch in Northern California during a particularly harsh winter being threatened by an unseen panther killing livestock, and the various brothers (Robert Mitchum, Tab Hunter, and William Hopper) at the ranch trying to hunt and kill the animal. Unfortunately, the storyline was more concerned with the brothers along with the rest of their family members venting their spleen at one another rather than just offing the frigging Big, Bad, Putty-Cat. More Eugene O’Neill rip-off than a real Western, this dull, pretentious snore fest was phonier than the never seen Putty Cat’s roaring in the Great Outdoors which sounded louder than some windbag opera singer in a Concert Hall. If that one wasn’t bad enough, years later you had another winner with “Rampage” (1963). It starred, once again, Robert Mitchum as a trapper, and Jack Hawkins as a big game hunter (clutching his rifle like someone holding his personal manhood in a vise grip) trying to capture a mixed breed big cat in Malaya for a Berlin Zoo. Unfortunately, this storyline was more focused on Hawkins’ mistress, Elsa Martinelli, and Mitchum making goo-goo eyes at each other while driving Hawkins into a murderous rage. Maybe the only thing worth watching here was to see whether Mitchum could keep sucking in his gut for the entire length of the motion picture rather than having his belly fat hang out over his belt buckle. However, despite these two barking cinematic dogs, there were also some better films involving hunters in the wild too!
The first one, which was based on one of Ernest Hemingway’s most celebrated short stories, was “The Macomber Affair” (1947) directed by Zoltan Korda. Robert Wilson (Gregory Peck), a professional hunter in British East Africa is hired by Francis Macomber (Robert Preston) and his wife Margaret (Joan Bennett) to hunt big game. Soon enough you realize that the couple’s marriage is on the rocks and that Francis is mistakenly using the trip as a means for them to rekindle their relationship. Unfortunately, the opposite occurs when Francis panics during a lion hunt and, after Wilson kills the lion to save him, his wife cruelly debases him further by starting to have an affair with Wilson. The developing love triangle will ultimately result in tragedy. All three actors gave solid believable performances thanks to fine direction by Korda and a top-notch adaption of the tale, which stuck almost entirely to the original story. Preston, an underrated actor who even looked a little bit like a young Hemingway, was especially good playing a man who emotionally loses just about everything, but then starts to later find his own personal redemption even if comes too late. Despite what you may feel about big game hunting in general and the sometimes over glorification of masculinity, toxic or otherwise, by Hemingway, “The Macomber Affair” was a terrific character driven drama.
Another picture also involving a love triangle, but tied into a tale about the hunt for a man-eating Bengal tiger is the lesser known, but equally powerful British drama, “Harry Black and the Tiger” (1958). “Black” starred Stewart Granger as Harry Black, a former British Army Colonel who lost his leg during a POW escape in World War II. Now with an artificial leg and residing in India, he makes a living hunting man-eating tigers for the Indian government. However, being older, he is starting to doubt that he still has the necessary skills to deal with his new assignment, hunting a particularly dangerous murderous tiger near a tea plantation. Things are even more complicated when he discovers who manages the tea plantation. It is Desmond Tanner (Anthony Steel) accompanied by his wife Chris (Barbara Rush) and their young son. It was due to Tanner’s cowardice during Black’s POW escape that cost him his leg. Even worse, while recuperating in England and with Tanner still imprisoned, Black had a brief intense affair with Chris. Now Tanner wants to accompany Black on his hunt to impress his young son while also knowing that there is still a strong attraction between Chris and Black. Uh-oh!
Although “Black” could have just been another run of the mill stereotypical white hunter romantic adventure tale, it is superior for a number of reasons. First, was the lush outdoor cinematography by John Wilcox capturing the exotic Indian landscapes. Second, was the direction by Hugo Fregonese. He often showed both Black and the tiger from each other’s perspective which made the animal even more terrifying whenever it hunted or zoomed in to suddenly kill someone. Third, and most important of all, was the fine performance by Stewart Granger. Granger was almost always more of a star than an actor, one who never really applied himself to working hard at being more than just charmingly tolerable in any film role (and to which Errol Flynn, whom Granger was often compared to, was also justifiably accused of). Fortunately, whatever trick Director Fregonese used on him, whether it was by additional coaching or a cattle prod… it sure worked. Granger is terrific in the role! His Black is world weary, emotionally restrained, and full of self-doubt. You can see his longing for Chris and she for him too by just a simple gesture or a look on each other’s face. Rush gives a fine performance here too, and their interactions with each other are touching, not trite. A strong drama with a mix of some scary and suspenseful moments, “Harry Black and the Tiger” is well worth your attention.
Another type of hunter vs. hunted film involved submarine warfare, especially pertaining to motion pictures about World War II. German U boats hunting Allied shipping and they, in turn, hunting the U boats themselves were the basis for numerous films like the overrated and melodramatic pictures “U-571” (2000) and “Grayhound” (2020) along with much better ones like “Action in the North Atlantic” (1943), “The Cruel Sea” (1953), “Das Boot” (1981), and its more recent German television adaption (2018 – present). However, the one that I particularly want to praise is the action sub thriller, “The Enemy Below” (1957), directed by Dick Powell. “Enemy” starred Robert Mitchum as Captain Murrell, who has recently taken command of the USS Haynes, a destroyer escort now on patrol in the South Atlantic. When the Haynes detects a U Boat commanded by the veteran Captain von Stolberg (Curt Jurgens), the hunt is on, and a nail-biting battle of wits between the two skippers begins over a 24-hour period. No CGI was used here. Actor/Director Dick Powell helped by spectacular big screen Cinemascope color cinematography by Harold Rosson (“The Wizard of Oz”) crafted a suspense thriller between two evenly matched opponents using actual ships, and naval personnel. They even had a former German U Boat sailor providing technical assistance for this picture too. Even though the screenplay didn’t really provide much depth to the characters, Mitchum and Jurgens were both still able to give decent performances. The film portrays two adversaries who have mutual respect towards each other even as they make maneuver after counter maneuver while hoping that one will finally be able to outwit and kill the other. “The Enemy Below” deservedly won the Oscar that year for Best Special Effects, and it is still one of the best submarine war pictures ever made.
Fun Fact: Years later a great episode of “Star Trek” used this film’s storyline. So too did the TV show, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” by (1) incorporating scenes from “The Enemy Below” into their own enemy sub hunt episode, and (2) even weirder, it had actor David Hedison, who originally was in “The Enemy Below” in this episode since he was a series regular on “Voyage.” However, for “Voyage”, that didn’t help it much at all. Their episode, just like the TV show, still stunk to high heaven!
Westerns were also great in providing interesting storylines involving hunters and their human prey. For example, you had the television show, “Wanted Dead or Alive” (1958-61) with Steve McQueen playing bounty hunter Josh Randall lugging a sawed-off Winchester rifle in his holster and successfully transitioning into a big-time movie star shortly thereafter. However, it really was in the movies that great Westerns for hunters and the hunted were made. Usually, these types of pictures revolved around three basic storylines…
- US Marshals/Sheriffs hunting outlaws or anyone wanted for a crime.
- Someone seeking revenge as a reason for hunting someone.
- The US Army hunting Indians or the Indians doing the same to either soldiers or the civilian population.
Some of the good ones were “Winchester 73” (1950), “The Searchers” (1956), and the Coen Bros. version of “True Grit” (2010). There were also a couple Westerns not as well known, but terrific too like “From Hell to Texas” (1958) and “Ulzana’s Raid” (1972). Out of all of them, the one that I’d like to especially praise is “Winchester 73.” It starred James Stewart as Lin McAdam who has a personal score to settle with outlaw Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally), and is hunting him relentlessly with his partner “High-Spade” Frankie (Millard Mitchell). Arriving in Dodge City where Wyatt Earp is the town’s Sheriff, they are forced to hand in their guns due to Earp’s rule against anyone carrying firearms in town which Earp also required Brown to do too. However, things soon change when both Lin and Brown enter a shooting contest with the prize being a “One of One Thousand” Winchester 1873 rifle. Lin wins the contest and the rifle, but Brown and his cronies jump Lin in his hotel room, knock him out, steal the rifle, and ride out with Lin and Frankie in hot pursuit. From that point on the film is one long chaise with that prized Winchester 73 coming into the possession of numerous individuals along the way.
James Stewart was at a career crossroads in 1950. His previous films in the late nineteen forties were not successful, and he was fearful that he was being typecast because studios believed that he couldn’t do more challenging roles. “Winchester 73” completely turned his career around, and forced the critics, the major studios and the viewing public to regard him in a new way. His Lin, while still likeable, was also tougher, harder, meaner, and more suddenly violent if he had to be. Stewart, who also was the first actor to take a cut of a picture’s profits rather than a straight fee, made three times as much money as he would have if he just got his normal fee because this movie was such a critical and popular box office hit. It also helped that he was able to have Anthony Mann selected as the director. Mann, who would go on to direct Stewart in four other acclaimed Westerns as well as in other dramas, crafted one of the finest Westerns ever made, and one of the best films of his entire career. Mann was never shy about showing violence in his films, but it was never gratuitous or excessive. He also was a great action director, and in this picture, he had one of the greatest shootouts and all-around action sequences in motion picture history. It takes place at the end of the picture with Lin and Brown in a final showdown in a box canyon blasting away at each other with their rifles expertly shot by Mann’s great, former Oscar winning cinematographer William Daniels (“Naked City”). A Western saga of revenge, “Winchester 73” is still one of the best.
Law enforcement hunting suspected criminals was also a popular category under the subject of the hunter and the hunted. For literature, one of the greatest of them all was French author Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, “Les Miserables”. The story of Jean Valjean, a former convict hunted by Inspector Emile Javert, has been adapted numerous times for motion pictures, television films/miniseries dramatizations, plays, musicals, etc. and its continued popularity will probably have it being remade till the end of time. For television, another fine example was ABC’s “The Fugitive” (1963-67) starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, a doctor who is unjustly convicted for the murder of his wife. Sentenced to death and en route to death row, he escapes after his train derails. Now on the run, he is hunted mercilessly by Police Lieutenant Philip Gerard (Barry Morse) with Kimble, while being hunted, also hunting the one-armed man who actually murdered his wife. The similarities to “Les Miserables” was definitely intentional even having the law enforcement characters names somewhat similar (Javert and Gerard). “The Fugitive” was a huge ratings success for ABC and, even though as an actor, David Janssen showed more emotional restraint than a Sphinx, he was still very sympathetic in the role. The final episode of the series was the most heavily watched TV episode in the history of television by the viewing public at that time. Years later the storyline was still popular when in 1993, a new critically acclaimed motion picture version of “The Fugitive” was made starring Harrison Ford as Kimble and Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones as Gerard. I guess you just couldn’t keep an unjustly convicted guy down for too long, could you?
While “The Fugitive” focused your sympathies on someone unjustly accused of committing a crime, what about films or TV series about law enforcement departments actually hunting those who were actually committing crimes you may ask? Well, there are so many that I couldn’t begin to list them all. Sometimes the perpetrator was shown right at the very beginning of the story. However, you also had a number of dramatizations where the criminal was not known and the film or television series had you follow the law enforcement department and their investigators (The Hunters) as they tried to apprehend the unknown criminal (The Hunted). These types of crime dramas were more commonly referred to as “police procedurals” where they tried to show accurately, the nuts-and-bolts step by step way of how the different areas of law enforcement worked together to catch a criminal. Numerous series like “Dragnet” (1951-59), “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1993-99), “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (2000-15), and others constantly inundated us with these stories. Of course, sometimes police procedurals were also dramatizations of actual criminal cases too. It is in this sub-group, that I will highlight one final great series before I’ll close this month’s Blog Post. That series is the British true crime investigative drama, “Manhunt” (2019 and 2021).
“Manhunt” starred Martin Clunes portraying real life Detective Chief Inspector Colin Sutton, and both series were based on Sutton’s memoirs involving two extremely difficult cases in his career. The three-part first series involved Sutton investigating the brutal murder of a young girl in 2004. During his investigation he discovers that the perpetrator was an actual serial killer with evidence connecting him to two other previous unsolved murders of young women as well as attacks against other women. He also finds out that there were mistakes made in the prior investigations which, if the errors didn’t occur, could have resulted in the actual killer’s earlier apprehension. The four-part second series was even better. This one was titled, “The Night Stalker” and it was based on Sutton’s review of an ongoing 17-year manhunt for a brutal serial rapist operating in South East London from 1992 to 2009. This investigation was the largest and most complex rape investigation ever undertaken by the Metropolitan Police of Greater London. Ultimately, this individual was also found to be an accomplished burglar who specifically targeted the elderly (including men), left next to no DNA or other forensic evidence, and meticulously observed his victims while planning his break ins and assaults. After some time, Sutton was given more overall authority over the entire investigation while also getting the necessary funding and manpower to enable the police force to ultimately capture the criminal.
Clunes, who has a face that sort of looks like a bulldog, portrays Sutton almost like a tenacious bulldog too. However, he is also someone capable of thinking out of the box to figure out a way to apprehend this criminal. He is terrific in the role, and so is the non-sensationalist Award winning direction by Mark Evans. The crimes that these two individuals did were horrific, but you didn’t have to actually see the crimes being perpetrated to feel their impact both on their victims and on the various members of law enforcement who were hunting them. “Manhunt” also showed how fallible Sutton and his investigators were at times along with all of the politics that he had to deal with. This included such things as how to (1) properly use the manpower and funding, (2) have all of the various law enforcement staff work together in as a team, and (3) deal with higher ups in the police establishment, the numerous news organizations, and the general public. All too often, police procedural dramas could be so focused on details that the overall drama was lacking or boring. This was not the case with “Manhunt” which was why it was suspenseful and engrossing rather than banal. You would never picture Clunes’ Sutton ever pulling out a 44 Magnum and, like Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan say, “Make my Day!” However, for “Manhunt”, I’d have been more likely to sweat bullets if Sutton, rather than Eastwood’s Callahan were hunting me!
Now, of course, If I were on the Outer Space cargo ship, Nostromo with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley hunting the “Alien,” I’d want Eastwood, Schwarzenegger, Bronson, and Stallone along with me. Hmmm! On second thought, I’ll skip Stallone…
I’d at least want someone able to walk and chew gum at the same time standing next to me!