The Hunting Party
My what an unpleasant western The Hunting Party is--and not in that good unpleasant way.
And what an unpleasant experience for actress Candice Bergen who, unless she gets off on this stuff, is stuck in a film where she's dragged through dirt, nearly raped numerous times, full on raped and then stuck with her rapist and a bunch of dirty outlaws.
Not that I have a problem with rape on screen(my exalted opinion of Irreversable and Straw Dogs would count that out). Truly, the rape (s) could have bolstered the experience beyond a realistic portrait of purty womanfolk amidst barbarism--the consequences of a blonde, fine-boned, patrician lady and the inevitable treatment she'd receive by the thugs who kidnap her. But there's nothing terribly relevant about her moments of hair pulling and screaming. Most interesting is Bergen, who not usually the world's greatest actress, gives a supremely convincing job of hating her situation.
But feeling sorry for both character and actress aside--we lose focus of the story at hand, weary from the lame, cliche ridden drama directed by Don Medford. Bergen plays Melissa Ruger, wife to the rich but sadistic rancher Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman) who keeps his wife like property. When she's kidnapped by outlaw Frank Calder (Oliver Reed) he flips his lid, stalking Calder, his gang and his own wife with an intensity that's psychotic. Compared to Ruger, Calder isn't such a bad guy--at first. When Melissa is almost raped by a yahoo toting her in the wagon Calder violently dumps the guy off. But when he gets her to himself, he can't resist and has his way with her also. And she is most definitely not into it. Not yet anyway. She'll grow to like, even love this guy. Awwww...maybe because the sole reason he kidnapped her was for reading. Yes, outlaw needs some R.I.F. But as we watch him recite, literally, "A, B, C" it's hard not to laugh. And when his crew shows how annoyed they are by what he's risking so he can hang with this chick and scrawl letters in the dirt, we're annoyed too. I don't think that's the film's direct intention.
Reed, an actor I love, is on outlaw autopilot with a bad accent and a thin character. We get that he's a neanderthal with a heart--a guy who wants to better himself, a guy who desires (sound of violins) love but he's written so poorly he comes off like a creepy, faux sensitive asshole. The great Hackman fares better, though we're probably supposed to hate what he does to Bergen and Reed at the end of the picture--we don't.
MGM releases The Hunting Party (1971) in a nicely transfered widescreen, 1:85:1 aspect ratio with the option of full screen. Looks good for its age.
Audio comes in a fine Dolby Digital English mono. English, French and Spanish subtitles are also on board.
A potentially compelling and daringly romantic western is possible with The Hunting Party, but it never reaches the level both the actors and director could have aspired. And though The Hunting Party shouldn't be a party it didn't have to be such a drag either.
Read more Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun