"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Hunting Party (UA, 1971)


Rancid
 


 


Do you remember back last month when I was talking about Wayne Morris in The Marksman? I was aiming also to review his The Fighting Lawman, which was the other Western on the Warner Bros Archive Collection double-feature DVD. But the wretched DVD wouldn't work, and I contacted the supplier, Rarewaves in the US, about it. Well, I can report that Jessica, at Rarewaves, was really good, and she sent me a replacement right away. Full marks to Rarewaves then. Tragically, however, that disc didn't work either, so I reckon there must be a fault on the whole pressing. Therefore dear e-pards, I shall not be reviewing this movie any time soon (no point in their sending yet another copy) and my myriad readers will de deprived of the insightful, witty and perspicacious comments I had planned. Both of them will regret this. Hey ho. On then to other matters.

Perhaps Warners ought to consider recalling their faulty product

The Hunting Party. Early 1970s Westerns really were the pits, weren’t they? I think the period was the nadir of our noble genre. Many 1960s Westerns had been pretty ropey, with aging actors appearing in inferior material, but at least the decade finished on a high, with The Wild Bunch and True Grit in 1969. 1970 through ‘75 had no such quality to recommend it. Take the year 1970 as an example: it was the year of A Man Called Horse, A Man Called Sledge, Adios Sabata, Cannon for Cordoba, Cry Blood Apache, Four Rode Out, Rio LoboTwo Mules for Sister Sara, Fistful of Lead, There Was a Crooked Man, My Name is Trinity, Soldier Blue and His Name was Madron. Not a good Western among them. Little Big Man was interesting that year but teetered dangerously on the edge of parody. About the best we got was Monte Walsh, The Cheyenne Social Club, Valdez is Coming, and Sam Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue. Chisum from John Wayne was just about acceptable. Those anno domini Western stars again.

1971 wasn’t much better. In fact you could argue it was even worse. Captain Apache, Catlow, Doc, Lawman, One More Train to Rob, Something Big, The Deserter, The Gatling Gun, Trinity is Still My Name. Pretty bad. On the plus side: Yuma, not bad, Wild Rovers, ditto, The Hired Hand, interesting, Support Your Local Gunfighter, fun, Shoot Out, ho hum, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, good, Hannie Caulder, also interesting, and Big Jake, John Wayne again.

Of course, on the other side of the coin, at least we got big-screen Westerns released in numbers!  

The very worst of 1971, though, was The Hunting Party.


It was the most repulsive start of any Western I know, with two deliberately juxtaposed scenes (deep, man) of the cutting up of a live animal and violent sex. In fact the animal part was excised from the film in some countries as being too disgusting to stomach. But Gene Hackman raping Candice Bergen was left in. Truly repellent.

Hackman has a curious CV as far as Westerns go. He was really great as Little Bill in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven – seriously good. He was also OK as General Crook in Geronimo: An American Legend and as Wyatt Earp’s dad in Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp (though they were hardly major parts). But Bite the Bullet was so-so, and he overdid it, and talking of overacting, try The Quick and the Dead, admittedly a very bad Western but he certainly didn’t help. Zandy’s Bride? Forget it. And as for The Hunting Party, well…

He could be good, bad and ugly

You can’t blame Oliver Reed quite so much. He was a Brit who struggled with the American accent he was obliged to put on. He was quite a hot property after his Bill Sikes in Oliver! and his Gerald Crich in Women in Love in the late 60s. But he was unsuited to Westerns – he tried again in The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday, with equally unsatisfactory results. He should never have been cast as the ‘hero’ (hah!) of The Hunting Party.

Unsuited

Ms. Bergen was coming up in the world at the time and would be nominated for an Oscar at the end of the decade. She did three Westerns, one of them Bite the Bullet, again with Hackman, and also the sordid Soldier Blue the year before The Hunting Party. It was a less than glorious record.

A thankless role

The film was originally announced in 1969 as a project for then husband and wife team Rod Steiger and Claire Bloom. Thank goodness at least that we were spared that.

But actually, even if the cast had been the best actors in the world, the film would still have been trash.

Perhaps we should blame principally the director and writers. Don Medford directed over 75 TV series between 1951 and 1989, but only helmed three movies, and this was his only Western, though he directed a few Western TV shows. He clearly didn’t understand the genre at all.

Dig the hair, Don

Three writers are credited: Lou Morheim, who was an associate producer on The Magnificent Seven in 1960 (and actually in this one there's a following rider who makes us think of Chico), but this was the only feature Western screenplay he wrote; Gilbert Ralston, who wrote Willard the same year as The Hunting Party but again scripted no other big-screen oaters; and William W Norton, who wrote or co-wrote three other Westerns, including The Scalphunters (our next review) and The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (which has a similar plot to The Hunting Party and is also pretty bad) but was hardly a leading figure in the field.

Let's blame Lou

Or the producers, who put such a noxious project together, of whom writer Norheim was one (he is fast shaping up to be one of the principal culprits) and Arthur Gardner, Jules V Levy and Arnold Laven were the others. It’s sometimes talked of as a British film. Though the only Brit actor (Reed) plays an American and it was shot in Spain, I think some of the backers were British, shame on them.

Whoever was to blame, the movie that resulted was pretty despicable. I would certainly never want to see it again.

Gene Hackman plays arrogant cattle baron Brandt Ruger, rich as Croesus – the town is named Ruger, he has his own train and also a trophy wife, Melissa (Bergen), with whom, though, he appears to be impotent. He organizes a hunting party with some cronies, of whom the leading light is Matt Gunn, played by Simon Oakland, a rather good actor who, however, for me will always be Frank Bullitt’s captain. He presents them all with Sharps .54 rifles with telescopic sights, a snip at $700 each and capable of a range of 800 yards.

He murders many
 
Oakland stands by him

Meanwhile, tough hombre Frank Calder (Reed) rides into town with his gang. LQ Jones is one member, so that’s good. These lowlifes kidnap schoolma’am Melissa and there’s an attempted rape in a wagon (only five minutes in and Melissa has already been assaulted twice). Frank is illiterate and he thinks the schoolteacher will teach him to read. And if we feel that’s enough sexual assaults, forget it. Ruger is busy brutalizing a Chinese sex worker on the train. So far, so repellent.

Outlaw Frank rides into town with his gang

Actually, I think the musician, Riz Ortolani, was kind of complicit, in a way, by scoring romantic music played during these appalling attacks.

Melissa goes on hunger strike but in a ‘comic’ scene (which is not the least bit funny) she relents in the face of a jar of peaches. We sense that she is warming to Frank, who, though a white-trash lowlife, is not quite as repulsive as his colleagues and therefore just about human. But hardly.

When Ruger learns of the kidnap he abandons his trip hunting animals in favor of using the long-distance rifles to shoot the kidnappers.

That’s basically the plot.

There are many brutal horse-falls and there seems to have been no supervision from any humane society or animal welfare outfit.

It's love, eventually, though totally inexplicable and unlikely

Soon one of Frank’s gang will beat and attempt to rape Melissa again. After all, we haven’t had a rape for at least half an hour at this point.

The gang fall out and start killing each other, and on Ruger’s side all his rich friends except Matt abandon the obsessive pursuit and leave him to it. He’s clearly crazy.

There’s a really ridiculous part where Frank kills his wounded friend, and we move to a frankly moronic ending in which everyone dies. Sorry about the spoiler but I just wish it had happened three reels earlier.

As a Western, The Hunting Party isn’t just disgusting to watch, it’s also dismally badly acted, written, and directed.

Best avoided, e-pards.

 

 

13 comments:

  1. Oliver Reed as the main outlaw? I guess Bruce Dern was unavailable at the time.

    Richard

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah now, Bruce, yes. He was busy on non-Westerns in 1971 (you gotta eat, I guess).
      Actually, though, even with Bruce Dern it would still have been a lousy movie.
      Jeff

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  2. Totally agree Jeff a very bad movie and totally repellent and ridiculous to boot.
    I'm not going to feel the least bit guilty here regarding spoilers because anyone
    who watches this film after your review deserves what they get.
    The scene where Bergen is shot in the crotch at the end is the final straw especially as Reed somehow survives being shot at fairly close range by a high
    powered rifle and the shell does not even pass through him.His drawn out death
    scene brings the curtain down on a very very bad Western
    Sad to see fine actors like L.Q.Jones and Rayford Barnes in this junk,I hope they
    were well paid.
    Another violent 70's mis-fire and even worse was the ghastly DEADLY TRACKERS.
    Not all 70's Westerns were the pits however we had two great ones in '76
    THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES and THE SHOOTIST.
    As times moved on we had two superb Burt Lancaster vehicles CATTLE ANNIE & LITTLE
    BRITCHES and ULZANA'S RAID. I'm also rather fond of LONG RIDERS but films of this
    quality became a rarity to say the least.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, THE DEADLY TRACKERS (1973) was also pretty bad. See https://jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.com/2019/05/the-deadly-trackers-warner-bros-1973.html
      I agree, there were some good Westerns in the 70s. But they were thin on the ground.
      Jeff

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  3. Jeff, another good review of an awful movie. Fact is, I would rather watch THE MISSOURI BREAKS and HEAVEN'S GATE, than watch THE HUNTING PARTY again. What a colossal waste of good actors and photography. I saw this movie back in the late 1980's when it wriggled itself onto the TV screen in a heavily edited version.
    The less said the better. Although, the behind the scenes antics of Oliver Reed and his drinking pard and fellow peach eater Mitchell Ryan, are more entertaining than what was in front of the cameras. Ryan said that he was fired from the movie, but that he was rehired when Reed missed his drinking companero.

    If you want to see a much better Western with Don "Midnight" Medford in the director's chair, seek out the top notch TV Western CIMARRON STRIP(1967-68) starring Stuart Whitman. Medford directed the Christopher Knopf(THE TALL STRANGER, 1957 and HELL BENT FOR LEATHER, 1960) written episode "The Battleground." This episode has a stellar guest star cast with Telly Savalas, Warren Oates, R.G. Armstrong, and Robert J. Wilke. "The Battleground" is a very good example of the TV Western at its finest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that episode was a kind of pilot in a way. Bob Wilke as unscrupulous rancher was fab. See https://jeffarnoldblog.blogspot.com/2015/06/cimarron-strip-cbs-tv-1967-8.html
      Jeff

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  4. Jeff, actually THE HUNTING PARTY had its genesis in THE BIG VALLEY(1965-69) TV show. I've seen all the episodes and one of the best was a February 2, 1966 episode titled "Teacher of Outlaws." In this episode, Victoria Barkley(Barbara Stanwyck) is filling in for the local school teacher and outlaw gang leader Sam Beldon(Harold J. Stone) orders his men to kidnap a teacher so he can learn to read. His men nab Victoria by mistake. The gang is made up of not so noble Timothy Carey, Steve Ihnat, and Pepe Callahan. You can tell what Carey wants by the lustful looks he gives Victoria. Sam Beldon has to hold Preacher Clegg(Timothy Carey) back.

    The above all sounds familiar because producer Louis Morheim wrote the story and Gilbert Ralston wrote the teleplay and THE BIG VALLEY was a Levey-Gardner-Laven production. Watch the TV show, it is so much better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah ha! That's where they got the 'story'.
      See, I told you Lou Morheim was the one to blame.
      Jeff

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  5. I carried on visiting the cinema through the 60s, 70s etc on a regular basis and saw many genres but I was always hopeful when a new western came out, almost always with the result of utter disappointment. Yes, there were some good ones made (examples already mentioned above) but generally I feel the western had finished for the most part. 1960 was a pivotal year, when the number of western releases plummeted.
    As for about 90% of the Spaghettis (and that's being generous).......

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We are, Jerry, as they say, on the same page here.
      Jeff

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  6. A true masterpiece in its own kind! Almost nothing to save or noticeable, just a wonderful amount of trash deeply impacted by the worst spaghetti trends of the time. A ridiculous variation of The Most Dangerous Game with Oliver Reed as expressive as a toad - even after Candice's kisses... Not sure if Javier Bardem has watched him !? Sad to see the other actors going down with the ship abandoned from the beginning by the captain. And the rifles are not Sharps but customized Martini-Henry easy to spot with their typical breech with a shortened forend. Should Candice have hidden a Derringer somewhere... JM

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like "Reed as expressive as a toad".
      I'll take your word for it on the rifles.
      As for Candice's armament, OF COURSE she ought to have had a derringer. Ça va sans dire.
      Jeff

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  7. JM, what a description of THE HUNTING PARTY. I think it fits it to a "T."

    ReplyDelete