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Director Ralph Nelson's Fate is the Hunter is based on Ernest K. Gann's novel of the same name, but the author was so displeased with this film adaptation that he asked to be removed from its credits. Gann's autobiography recounts his years piloting for American Airlines in the early days of commercial aviation and often reads like a fictional adventure thanks to Gann's vivid and harrowing recollections of his cockpit mishaps. I can understand why Gann may not have been pleased that Fate is the Hunter evolved into flashback-heavy melodrama about a plane crash, but the film is effective in its own right. After a Consolidated Airlines jet crashes shortly after takeoff, aviation executive Sam McBane (Glenn Ford) looks to clear pilot and longtime friend Jack Savage's (Rod Taylor) name as the cause of the crash. The film alternates between the ongoing investigation and flashbacks to Jack and Sam's friendship and early aviation careers. Fate is the Hunter is both an effective drama and exciting procedural, and, while not a faithful adaptation of Gann's novel, surprises and entertains.
Savage loses an engine in his jet and struggles to land the plane, ultimately crashing into a pier. Fifty-three people perish and the only survivor, flight attendant Martha Webster (Suzanne Pleshette), is badly injured. The airline is quick to point fingers at Savage, and it is quickly revealed that the pilot had a history of insubordination and reckless behavior. McBane believes otherwise, and knows Savage was an exceptional pilot despite his tendency to bend the rules. He begins investigating the accident, which leads him to the homes of Savage's recent acquaintances, most of whom are beautiful women. Former fiancé Lisa Bond (an uncredited Dorothy Malone) labels him a rogue and miscreant, but softens when recalling Savage's talent and charm. Recent lover Sally Fraser (Nancy Kwan) is less critical, and joins McBane in his investigation.
The film's narrative could have easily devolved into a soapy, melodramatic mess, but Fate is the Hunter instead becomes a thoroughly involving mystery. The flashbacks reveal a Savage that piloted a stricken plane out of harm's way during the war and a man who earned the respect and admiration of his fellow soldiers and colleagues through his own code of honor. The film barely touches on the other passengers lost in the crash, which threw me off after the extended opening aboard the aircraft, and instead splits its time between McBane's present work and Savage's past. The interesting contrast between Savage the man and Savage the drunken, reckless legend is intriguing.
Nelson keeps things moving at a decent clip, and Fate is the Hunter culminates in an exciting test flight with McBane at the controls and Webster back in the cabin. The resolution is somewhat surprising but exemplifies the titular idea that fate is often to blame for such a tragedy. Fate is the Hunter is not a film I was familiar with before receiving the Blu-ray to review, but I am certainly glad I stumbled upon this 1960s drama. Both Ford and Taylor give excellent performances, as do Kwan and Malone in supporting roles. It is also a treat to see Constance Towers and Mary Wickes pop up in brief scenes. Fate is the Hunter is less an adaptation of Gann's novel than a film inspired by it, and the film works as a hybrid character drama and plane-crash procedural.
The black and white 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is excellent. The image is highly detailed, with excellent texture in both close-ups and wide shots, and complements the intricate production design. The picture is steady and largely without print defects. Grain appears natural and shadow detail is good. There has been no obtrusive digital manipulation, and I noticed very little in the way of transfer anomalies given the film's age.
The DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is crisp and clean, with unobstructed dialogue and decent depth. Jerry Goldsmith's score and the ambient effects do not overwhelm the dialogue, and the track never feels overly busy. No subtitle options are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Twilight Time releases Fate is the Hunter on Blu-ray as part of its "Limited Edition Series," and only 3,000 units were created for sale. The disc is packed into a standard Blu-ray case, and a multi-page booklet is tucked inside the inner flap. Extras include To Whom it May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey (1:46:31/HD), an excellent documentary about actress Nancy Kwan. The Hong Kong-born actress reveals much about her Hollywood career, and the piece provides interesting insight into the culture shock Kwan surely experienced. There is also an Isolated Score with Commentary by Nancy Kwan and Film Historian Rick Redman, presented in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, and the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:20/SD).
This adaptation of Ernest K. Gann's novel may not have pleased the author, but it works as a plane-crash procedural and character drama. Glenn Ford and Rod Taylor are excellent as the airline executive investigating the crash and the doomed plane's rogue pilot, respectively. The film alternates between the present investigation and flashbacks of the pilot's distinguished career, and culminates in an exciting test flight to recreate the events leading up to the crash. Twilight Time's Blu-ray looks and sounds great, and includes an interesting documentary about actress Nancy Kwan. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.