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THE HUNTING PARTY is a 1971 western about two obsessions. Oliver Reed is Frank Calder, an outlaw that wants to learn to read. Gene Hackman is Brandt Ruger, a very rich man who takes his pleasures as he finds them, with no regard for anyone else.

Calder kidnaps Melissa Ruger(Candace Bergen) who he finds at a school handing out books to children. She’s the wife of Brandt Ruger, though, and that kidnapping sets off the hunting party of the title.

At the time the kidnapping is going down, Brandt Ruger has left on a train with all his rich friends for a regular hunting party. He has gifts for them all: something new in hunting, powerful rifles with “telescopes” mounted on top of each. “Can shoot seven hundred yards!” They are all amazed.

When word comes of the kidnapping, Ruger talks his friends into hunting them down instead of sending for the law. “They’re gunslingers” was one protest, but Brandt suggests they use the distance of the rifles to stay safe.

The movie becomes one long chase where bullets come from nowhere to cut down a few men, then run. Death, then fleeing. At first, Melissa uses every opportunity to try to escape. But as things wear on, she starts to teach Frank the rudiments of reading, the alphabet, how to write his name, and the pair start to draw close(the Stockholm Syndrome they call it these days I believe).

Melissa sees the differences in the outlaw and her husband. Frank cares for his men and is devastated by the deaths by sniper of his men. Her husband has always been cold and a bit brutal.

Ruger pushes his friends on and Frank refuses to give up Melissa. Either man breaking the chain would end it. Neither does, all the way up to the final confrontation.

A brutal and bloody film, I read where one fan called it an answer to The Wild Bunch. Not in that class, surely, but not a bad film. Directed by Don Medford, Riz Ortolani provides a fine score to highlight the action. L.Q. Jones, Mitchell Ryan, and Simon Oakland perform admirably in key roles. At nearly two hours, I would say it’s worth a look.

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