Monday, February 7, 2022

#2,705. The Hunting Party (1971) - The Wild West


Though released the same year as a handful of lyrical westerns (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Hired Hand), director Don Medford’s 1971 film The Hunting Party, with its bloody shoot-outs and chauvinistic leanings, has more in common with the cinema of Sam Peckinpah.

Hoping to improve his status, outlaw Frank Calder (Oliver Reed) decides it’s time he learns how to read. So, with the help of his gang, including best friend Doc (Mitchell Ryan), Calder kidnaps pretty schoolteacher Melissa Ruger (Candice Bergen) and orders her to teach him his A-B-C’s.

What Calder doesn’t know is that his new prisoner is the wife of wealthy landowner Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman).

At the time of the abduction, Brandt was off on a hunting expedition, where he and his pals were going to try out a new rifle, one so powerful that it can hit a target with perfect accuracy from 800 yards (to that point, no rifle had been effective from more than 350 yards). When he receives word that his wife has been kidnapped, Brandt and the rest of his hunting party form a posse and set off in search of Calder and his gang.

As with Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, the violence in The Hunting Party is often savage; once Brandt Ruger and his pals catch up with Calder, they pick his men off one at a time while hiding well out of sight in the surrounding hills. And the poor souls who find themselves on the wrong side of Brandt’s new rifle do not die a quick death (one victim, shot in the head, twitches a while before finally succumbing to his wound).

Even more troubling than the violence is the film’s out-and-out misogyny; Bergen’s Melissa is clearly an intelligent woman, yet is given little to do in the film aside from being raped by the two male leads (in the opening scene, Brandt is forcing himself on her in their bedroom), and to make matters worse, she not only seems to enjoy Calder’s sexual attack, but falls in love with the outlaw afterwards!

The Hunting Party does have its strengths. The showdown between Brandt and Calder features a few tense moments, and the violence, though brutal, is convincingly portrayed. In addition, Reed delivers a strong performance as the introspective Calder, while Ryan is quite good as his trusted sidekick (their camaraderie is the film’s most realistic relationship).

Alas, its seedier moments, coupled with a few plot holes (Brandt, in one scene, proves himself a sadist when he tortures an Asian prostitute played by Franesca Tu, but this personality trait is never explored any further), make The Hunting Party little more than a dated curiosity for fans of the genre.
Rating: 5 out of 10

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