The Hunting Party (1971)
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Yet at the same time, I was immediately hooked and engaged until the end credits started. Though the movie has all of those above faults (and more), there is some really good stuff here. The locations... photography...production values... are all top-notch. And whoa, all of that violence! The bloddy shootouts and sniper attacks give Sam Peckinpah a real run for his money. People who don't like westerns probably won't like this movie, but western fans like myself will likely embrace it, flaws and all
That is something that a notorious outlaw (Oliver Reed) and his gang have to learn in the worst way possible in THE HUNTING PARTY, a 1971 British/American western that, even by 21st century standards, is still incredibly violent. Reed kidnaps a local schoolteacher (Candice Bergen) in the (now faint) hope that he'll be taught how to read. When Bergen warns him about her husband, he tells her "It don't matter whose wife you are." A fatal misjudgment on his part, for her husband Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman) is not one to fool around with. While out on a hunting party with a few of his friends, the dictatorial and very abusive land baron learns of Bergen's kidnapping, and thus gets blood in his eyes. And rather than going after game, he and his boys instead go after Reed and his gang, picking them off one at a time with high-power rifles that can hit from a distance of 800 yards. The result is a sagebrush variation of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, done with some of the most brutally violent shootouts this side of THE WILD BUNCH and SOLDIER BLUE. And as he is a man driven by extreme jealousy (Bergen is his personal "property", whom he physically abuses on more than one occasion), the fact that Bergen is beginning to develop a rapport with Reed now gives him whatever license he feels he needs to kill her as well, though he drags it out for the sheer sadistic fun of it to a very cynical and blood-splattered conclusion.
There isn't too much doubt that THE HUNTING PARTY was made to take advantage of the "market" opened up by THE WILD BUNCH and its director Sam Peckinpah's choreography of violent action, as well the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone. The shootouts are extremely bloody, and they clearly mirror those of THE WILD BUNCH in the use of slow motion and quick cutting. Where THE HUNTING PARTY falls short, however, is in a crucial area that Peckinpah knew was vital to his film being successful: the action and plot must be character-driven and made to feel real to an audience. Veteran TV director Don Medford (who, among other things, directed the classic 1961 Twilight Zone episode "Death's Head Revisited) and screenwriters Gilbert Ralston, William Norton, and Lou Morheim know how to do the Peckinpah-inspired gunfights, but they don't seem to have taken too much time to really delineate any complexities in the three main characters. Bergen is merely a damsel in distress, caught between two men who are basically bastards, one merely semi-controlling (Reed), the other a sadistic control freak of the highest order (Hackman). Absent the complex psychological and character-driven narrative that propelled THE WILD BUNCH to a controversial but well-deserved glory, THE HUNTING PARTY can so easily be tagged, as more than a few critics have done (albeit perhaps too zealously), as an extremely bloody sagebrush shooting gallery in which violence is staged for the sake of violence.
The film does succeed in giving us good performances from the three leads (notably Hackman, whose role is credibly sadistic to the highest degree); good cinematography done on location in Spain (as a stand-in for Texas); and supporting roles for L.Q. Jones (a member of Peckinpah's stock company); Simon Oakland; Mitchell Ryan; and William C. Watson. And one can't fault the long-distance shooting that occurs, or the way it so ingeniously borrows a great old-world story (THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME) and puts it into a WILD BUNCH-type western format. Had the filmmakers only paid a bit more attention to complex characters and motives here as Peckinpah had in his epic film, however, THE HUNTING PARTY might have been a bit more than a good, if incredibly and graphically violent, post-Peckinpah/Leone addition to a Western genre that was rapidly changing during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Oliver Reed is stunning as Frank Calder, the tough leader of an outlaw gang who wants to learn to read. Thinking she is a schoolteacher who can teach him his letters, he kidnaps Melissa (Candice Bergman), the wife of the very wealthy Brant Rudger (Gene Hackman). Rudger, a cruel sadist and absolute dictator, talks his wealthy cronies into hunting down the outlaw gang and picking them off one by one with high-powered rifles. But he proposes it more as a game of revenge or sport than out of love or fear for his wife's safety.
Calder and Rudger are both brutal men, but Calder values human life and relationships while the Rudger cares only for indulging his passions at any cost. Though his friends start to sicken of the game and beg him to stop, Rudger won't be deterred from the game.
As the movie develops, Oliver Reed's scenes crackle with tension, energy, and a depth of sexuality that may surprise those who are more familiar with his roles as the heavy or antagonist. Gene Hackman's character brings a single-minded intensity to the movie that has rarely been matched on screen. Candice Bergman gives a feisty performance and carries off a difficult role very well. Her character is caught, both literally and figuratively in a war of emotions, in a terrifying conflict.
I agree with the prior reviewer who says this needs to be released on DVD! With so many bad movie DVD's out there, I'm surprised this one's potential has been overlooked for so long. Frankly, I would love to see it on the big screen.
You know it's a grim movie you're going to see when it opens with a shot of Gene Hackman roughing up his wife a little in that particularly mean-spirited way that made him such an endearing villain in the early 70's (and which he reprised for Clint Eastwood's UNFORGIVEN winning his second Oscar) intercut with shots of a cow being slaughtered. At least director Don Medford is upfront about it. The movie remains pretty unflinching in the portrayal of violence. Almost every actor is propped with blood squibs at some point in the film while others not lucky to be shot out of horses in slow motion get knives in their necks and buckshot in their faces. The Hunting Party is dinstictly a product of its time, a loyal retracing of the steps back to THE WILD BUNCH instead of taking the genre to new areas, belonging to that particularly bloody and violent American western niche that followed in the wake of Peckinpah's film (along with others like Chato's Land, The Revengers, The Deadly Trackers etc). Subverting and taking off the rose-tinted glasses the far west mythos was seen with by people like John Wayne, who cared so much about perceived values and ideals he had to make RIO BRAVO in response to Gary Cooper throwing down his star in HIGH NOON, taking a closer, more realistic look, if not at authentic period detail, then at least at how people were shot and killed.
All blood and clamor aside however, The Hunting Party is just not a very good movie. Medford's average-to-poor direction and the fact it's 20 minutes too long make sure it won't be seeing top lists anytime soon. And then there's the script. That Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman) curiously refrains from shooting Frank Calder, the man who kidnapped his wife and whom he specifically set out to kill, when he gets plenty of chances to do so, seems to occur for no other reason than to stretch a final showdown that could have taken place in the first half hour into almost two hours. The acting is in turns okay and wooden, generally of the 'good enough' or 'will have to do' variety. Oddly enough for a cast featuring a man who would go on to win the Oscar that same year for THE FRENCH CONNECTION and kickstart a brilliant career, the best thing about The Hunting Party is a man who made a career out playing Athos in The Three Musketeers. Oliver Reed looks just right for the part, in a role that would be played probably by Richard Boone 20 years earlier and Javier Bardem twenty years later. When he tries to emote and just do anything that doesn't involve looking mean and badass, he faulters, but he looks mean and badass for all but maybe 2 minutes in the film.
I saw this one on cable the other night. "The Hunting Party" has been on my list of movies to see for some time. It was listed in a few catalogs of mine as a very violent western from the 70's. Did someone say violence? Violence, violence, VIOLENCE!! Sorry. Let me wipe the drool from my mouth. OK, I'm back now. So I felt pretty fortunate that I could catch this one on cable instead of having to buy a copy for myself.
"The Hunting Party" is the story of a woman and the rapist who loves her. Candice Bergen is the poor wife of sadistic Gene Hackman. When Hackman learns that Oliver Reed and friends have kidnapped his wife, he proposes a "Hunting Party" to take them out. He just got his hands on some super rifles so the party can hang back and pick them off. Bergen falls for Reed since her hairy, illiterate rapist is a more caring lover than psychotic Hackman.
This western is violent. That's for sure. Most of the violence comes from Hackman and his sniper posse. Outlaws get picked off as blood packets explode from their bodies. The ending was also nice and bloody. But "The Hunting Party" is pretty pointless. Hackman chases Reed, outlaws get shot and there you go. I'm glad I didn't buy a copy. If you can see it on cable, it's worth a look.
One last thought, Candice Bergen was really a hot babe back then. I was pleasantly surprised since I'm used to her (older) "Murphy Brown" look. I may have to search out for some more Bergen babe flicks from the 70's.
Oliver Reed (oddly cast, but not bad) plays Frank Calder, an American outlaw whose gang kidnaps Melissa Ruger (Candice Bergen), a young woman married to rancher Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman). As the story plays out, she actually becomes more attached to Frank, because her relationship with Brandt is not a loving one. Brandt is an extremely determined man, so when he gets wind of Melissas' kidnapping he swings into action, using a revolutionary high powered rifle and his hunting buddies as the rest of his posse.
We'll see that, for all of his flaws, Frank has a sensitive, caring side, and is really a more appealing character than Brandt, who doesn't so much care for his wife as get angry that his property was taken from him and will get "spoiled".
Only some draggy pacing ("The Hunting Party" doesn't need to be quite as long as it is) works against the film. It's a viscerally effective experience that may have the viewer fascinated in spite of themselves. The evolving relationship between outlaw and wife forms the core of the story, and Reed & Bergen play it very well. Hackman is solid in a cold-blooded true force-of-nature role (who lines up his victims as if they're game) and the supporting cast includes such familiar faces as Simon Oakland, Mitch Ryan, L.Q. Jones (in one of his most depraved roles ever), William Watson, and G.D. Spradlin. It's extremely well shot, at wonderful locations throughout the desert of Spain. It actually doesn't miss an opportunity for humour as Reed and Ryan tease the hungry Bergen by eating peaches in front of her, but for the most part it's a *very* sobering film all the way to its ending. The train with the bordello is a rather amusing touch. The music by Riz Ortolani ("Cannibal Holocaust") is absolutely beautiful.
This one doesn't seem to be too well known nowadays, so Western fans who can take a lot of blood and unpleasantness would be well advised to seek it out. You certainly don't come away unaffected after watching this.
Seven out of 10.
>>> Mild Spoiler follows <<<
Gene Hackman's character, Brandt, is obsessed with punishing the men who kidnapped his young wife. He is portrayed as a personable, wealthy rancher with a sadistic mean streak. He becomes so single-minded about getting payback that he destroys himself in the process. Oliver Reed, as Frank, is shown as an outlaw who does not kill unless necessary, and the struggle between these men forms the plot. We follow the story primarily from the Calder gang POV, so the audience shares their panic when the hunters attack. The loud report of the high-powered rifle shots becomes especially unnerving as the movie progresses.
There are a few scenes that help develop the characters of Calder and his men, such as the 'peaches' scene, which interjects a bit of levity into what is otherwise a dark, inexorable journey into oblivion. The ending, IMO, is a fitting climax to the story, and elevates the film above a rote Western shoot-em-up.
I'll be honest, the stale plot isn't earth-shattering, and even though the movie results in a bleak, uncompromising, and tragic manner, it's pretty predictable. But, if you want your fix of bloody violence with plenty of people blown away by long range rifles(..mostly by Hackman, who's a crack shot), then "The Hunting Party" might just be what the doctor ordered. It has plenty of familiar faces. LQ Jones a sleazy scoundrel who, while in a drunken high, attempts to rape Bergen, getting his medicine(..what she doesn't complete, Hackman sure as hell does), with Mitchel Ryan as Reed's compadre, Doc, who is gut shot, but lives on the brink of death for damn near an hour as the group move from territory to territory seeking a town physician to pull the bullet buried inside him.
The major problem with this western is that you kind of have no one to really side with. Hackman, understandably so, becomes so bloodthirsty, that he alienates those who accompany him on the quest to find Reed. We don't really spend a great deal of time with him, either, so we have little real time to get to know him all that well. He very well could be a disaster of a husband which might explain why Bergman responds so passionately eventually to Reed. We do recognize a friction between the Rugers, and it's visible how Brandt treats her as a prize no one but can claim, but still, Frank isn't exactly the greatest substitute, now is he? But, that scene where Reed forces himself on Bergman is hard to watch, and, despite the fact she succumbs to his desires, that rape does tarnish any sympathy one might have in his favor.
The film seems to side with Reed, though, as Hackman just continues to shoot down his men, picking them off in intervals, and we follow them as they grow more weary, their tempers tested due to the fact that they are dying because of a broad. Simon Oakland(..who I consider to be one of the finest television actors in the history of the small screen, his face recognizable across all genres, particularly in the 60's and 70's, most notably, "Kolchak The Night Stalker") is well cast as Matthew Gunn, attempting to be a voice of reason for Ruger, trying to talk some sense into him, especially after it's realized that Melissa has chosen Frank over Brandt. But, it's obvious that Brandt isn't a man to lose any property that's his to anyone, much less an outlaw whose life has been about stealing and killing. Like a lot westerns coming out in the 70's, I reckon "The Hunting Party" suffered as the genre was starting to wain, it very much an example of "The Wild Bunch" influence.
We've seen a number of movies before -- the posse or the revenge party pursuing somebody across harsh terrain -- "Tell Them Willie Boy is Here," "Three Godfathers", "Chato's Land," and so on -- but this is the only one I can think of offhand in which each party -- pursued and pursuer -- changes its attitude towards the other.
About two dozen cowboy roughnecks led by Oliver Reed and including the bad L. Q. Jones and the good Mitchell Ryan kidnap the bride of the wealthy Western entrepreneur and big game hunter, Gene Hackman. Hackman hears about this while on a train, after banging a Chinese hooker, and, man, is he mad. He fantasizes the gang will rape Bergan repeatedly, impregnate her, and then sell her back as damaged goods. So he forms a posse of half a dozen friends, arms them with telescopic rifles that will outshoot any existing rifle by twice the range.
Nothing much new there, except that instead of an outraged groom, Hackman has revealed himself as a stark materialist and a rather rough lover. But then Hackman's group gradually find themselves within range of the kidnappers after a long chase through some extremely picturesque mountains, badlands, and desert scrub. The kidnappers have no idea anything is up until a couple of them get shot by rifles too far away to see.
Here's where somebody put some thought into the script. Ordinarily, in an ordinary Western, the convention is that when you are shot, you die. They may shoot your horse instead, but then the horse gets up with an irritated look and trots off unharmed. If you are only wounded, you get away and, if you're a good guy, you recover the use of your gun hand.
Not here. A wound is intensely painful and your buddy can't always pluck out the offending bullet, no matter how much mescal you drink or how hard the praying Padre holds your arms down. If they're mortally wounded the victims just don't flop down and lie there. They twitch a little before they kick off. The horses don't get up if they're hit, although they're definitely horse de combat. (Apologies. The voices make me do it.) They jerk their heads and legs and whinny. The first kidnapper to get shot has his head blown off while taking a dump.
Hackman treats all this as a hunting party. And one or two of his posse smile as they take pot shots, especially G. D. Spradlin. What they don't know is that Bergman has been scared out of her wits after the kidnapping but when she seeks comfort in the arms of the stolid Oliver Reed, he roughly rapes her. Then she falls in love with him. (I said it was artistically ambitious, not that it was politically correct.) The others in Hackman's party realize what's happening and leave. "It's not worth it," shouts Simon Oakland, the least likely cowboy you're ever likely to see, but he's right. Nevertheless, all the gang die except Reed who, along with Bergman, is reduced to trekking through the vastness of the desert, horseless, until they collapse. Their hopes in ruins, they murmur about plum trees and grapes in California, until the shimmering image of an equally horseless Hackman appears. He shoots both of them dead and collapses to wait for death.
Hackman is always fine, either as bad guy or good guy. Oliver Reed, with his hoarse mutter and eternal scowl, is hard to place. Candace Bergen isn't given much opportunity to act. She looks (1) wary, (2) distressed, or under stress, as when being raped, (3) shocked and surprised. You can tell because her mouth opens and she screams, "Oh, oh, oh!" She's so staggeringly beautiful that it hardly matters. Her long loose blond hair is always immaculately brushed and lustrous. What would happen to your hair and mine under those circumstances does not happen to hers. As an actress, she labors under the same disadvantage as some other actresses -- like Kathleen Ross and Jane Fonda. She sounds like she just graduated from some classy school like Sarah Lawrence.
There's a misplaced semi-comic incident involving canned peaches that the musical score, a sprightly banjo, tells us is supposed to be funny, but it's not.
There may be an occasional wince while watching this but it's not a bad film. It's at least interesting all the way through.
What's admirable here is the way director Medford handles both Bergen's developing relationship with Reed (shades of Stockholm Syndrome) and Hackman's gradual realization that he can't compete with the younger man on any level.
The score, by Riz Ortolani (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), is sensational, and perfectly captures the sense of big trouble in a harsh land and the bloody inevitability of these men's lives.
Aside from the inclusion of some awful process shots on an exterior train scene, the film's technical credits are top notch and cinematographer Cecilio Paniagua's dusty vistas are powerfully evocative.
For me, the film's stand-out dramatic scene is Reed's "rape" of Bergen and its ambiguous aftermath.
Pretty damn good.
Gene Hackman (Brandt Ruger) play's a really good a**hole in this movie, he plays the bad guy well. Oliver Reed (Frank Calder) play's the leader of the gang who should be a villain, but turn out to be the nice guy. Reed pulls off the American accent pretty d*mn good. You wouldn't know he was British from watching this movie. Mitch Ryan (Doc Harrison) awesome as Doc, only knew him from Dharma and Greg, pretty good performance. Candice Bergen (Melissa Ruger) I didn't recognize at first, since all I remember her from was Murphy Brown, and Miss Congeniality.
Brandt Ruger is a rich cattle rancher that if he owns something it's his and no one else, and no one steals from him either. When Frank Calder steals his wife Ruger and his men start hunting down the gang. Using high tech guns that can kill a man from 800 feet away. Ruger's men start taking down Calder's men one by one, it's very bloody and messy. Melissa Ruger and Frank fall for each other, which anger's Brandt even more. When the movie ends, your cheering and going d*mn I didn't see that one coming. It's a good movie, One western that I actually like, and that surprised me a lot.
From the very beginning we are introduced to variations of pretty unlikable and ruthless people. Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman)is a rich farmer who clearly doesn't give a damn about his wife (Candice Bergen). After he have left on a hunting trip, his wife who helps out the school teacher is kidnapped by a gang of outlaws so she can teach their leader Frank (Oliver Reed) to read. Apparently he wants to become a bigger man and reading is the next step. He have of course no idea that the womans husband is even scarier than his whole gang combined.
After stumping cigarettes on a Chinese hooker and having a pretty fun night Brandt is awaken by the news. Infuriated and equipped with the long range rifles he and his rich pals for a hunting party with the mission to kill the entire gang and save his wife.
This must be one of the darkest films ever made. It could best be described as misanthropic. I felt a complete rush while watching this. As the hunting party starts their game everything can happen and the suspense is extreme. Incredibly entertaining and completely uninterested in the worth of a human life. This film is more merciless than The Wild Bunch.
This is most certainly a film about anger and revenge! And what this may cause. It shows violence for what it is: Ugly and brutal! I can see why this has such a low rating. A lot of people will obviously reject such material but if your a fan of The Great Silence, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Rabid Dogs and films of this kind it's most definitely for you. A great story indeed. A must for fans of western and grit.
Surprisingly, the cast is full of powerhouse talent. Oliver Reed top bills as Frank Calder, an outlaw with no particular ambition or aim in life other than to stay alive in a violent world. He and his gang kidnap a beautiful teacher Melissa Ruger (Candice Bergen). Her husband Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman) pursues the gang with a hunting party, aided by the latest and greatest rifles which can blow a man apart from long range. One by one, Reed's gang is reduced in number from a safe distance until only Reed himself remains.
The history of guns seems to have been well researched for this film, but if you want a potted history of how the rifle was used in the wild west then read a good book on the subject. As a serious western with themes about lawlessness, vigilantism and corruption, the film is a loss. It could've explored all these themes, but it just contents itself with close-up killings. As an entertainment it is a loss too. What's entetaining about outlaws having their torso blown open by long range rifles? What's entertaining about one set of unpleasant characters hunting down another set of unpleasant characters? It seems to me that good westerns can go down one of two routes: they can be serious explorations of a fascinating time and place, or they can be entertaining action yarns with a wild west setting. This film is neither... avoid!