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War Hunt

War Hunt
MGM Home Entertainment
1962 / b&w / 1:66 letterboxed flat / 83 min. / Street Date May 20, 2003 / 14.95
Starring John Saxon, Charles Aidman, Sydney Pollack, Tommy Matsuda, Gavin MacLeod, Tony Ray, Tom Skerritt, William Challee, Robert Redford
Cinematography Ted McCord
Art Direction Edgar Lansbury
Film Editor John Hoffman
Original Music Bud Shank
Written by Stanford Whitmore
Produced by Denis & Terry Sanders
Directed by Denis Sanders

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Steve McQueen made a movie called The War Lover, a title which would also fit this moody independent film from Denis and Terry Sanders. It overcomes its Roger Corman level of production through an excellent script, intelligent direction and good acting from a talented group, almost all of whom continued on to impressive careers. The slow pace and realistic observation of the often-boring life of soldiers tend to bog the movie down, and it winds up as an excellent calling card for a directing career that never took off.


Pvt. Roy Loomis (Robert Redford) joins the front lines in Korea not long before the final cease fire, and finds a peculiar situation. Pvt. Raymond Endore (John Saxon) is a weird loner who speaks little, keeps a mascot-like Korean kid (Tommy Matsuda) as a helper, and goes out on personal killing missions at night, stalking and knifing North Korean lookouts. The Captain (Charles Aidman) and the Lt. Colonel (William Chalee) see nothing wrong with this, as Endore's independent activities are a source of good information. But the rest of the platoon clearly fear him. Loomis rocks the boat by befriending little Charley, which upsets the psychotic Endore enough to threaten his life. What's Endore going to do when the war stops, and he won't be able to exercise his murderous habit?

Just like this year's The Hunted, this modest b&w feature is about a soldier who turns his job into a fanatic lifestyle. John Saxon's Raymond Endore loves to kill, and lives for little else. He does crazy little victory dances around his victims, and is so far gone he can't relate to his comrades, or even remember to salute or say 'sir' to his superiors.

Stanford Whitmore's focused script gives the soldiers convincing dialogue. The GI's are friendly and jokey and differentiated without being used as comic relief; the officers are sensible and always try to do what's best for their men. There's no axe-grinding here about anything corrupt or cruel in the chain of command; we get instead a believable wartime situation that centers on the attempt of Redford's Loomis to figure out what Saxon's Endore is all about.

War Hunt is very realistic but probably too slow-moving for many. The only real firefight is a simple exchange that's well-prepared but nowhere near as gripping as the action in Pork Chop Hill of three years previous. Milestone's Korean war movie was driven by outrage at the Communist tactics at the bargaining table, that made Gregory Peck and co.'s noble combat only seem to be meaningless. The Sanders' film has an intellectual, sensitive approach that sees warfare as a personal inclination for killing. Action audiences prefer the security of stories that justify combat, not critique it.

War Hunt also feels like a liberal, pacifist undertaking. The music is a dead giveaway - it's a moody, downbeat track that belongs on a picture about monks in meditiation, or autistic children. Much more effective, but just as pacifist-oriented, is the Korean children's choir heard over the main titles.

Production- wise, War Hunt does a great job with only a couple of trucks and some makeshift sets, in what looks like the West End of the San Fernando Valley. The care in set dressing and other details lifts it high above exploitation fare, as does the direction. Denis Sanders, along with his producer brother Terry, had made some impressive short subjects and an ambitious-sounding feature called Crime and Punishment, USA. They continued forward with Shock Treatment and One Man's Way; as a solo director Denis did a lot of television, and the cult horror film Invasion of the Bee Girls. This UA release made almost zero impact, and has surely been revived because of the presence of Robert Redford in his first starring role.

Redford is good, expecially when the script calls on him to freeze up under fire. Saxon, the big discovery of the late 50s, has no trouble being remote and weird, but is also inexpressive and unconvincing - he's supposed to be a mass of warring internal forces, but there's nothing happening in his eyes. Endore's relationship with young Charlie would be considered 100% perverse nowadays. When maladjusted, homicidal loners hang around submissive little boys, it's not for the conversation.

There are more familiar faces. Gavin MacLeod's big success would come on televison with Mary Tyler Moore. Young Tom Skerrit's situation, sharing a Korean war tent with a local boy, is very similar to the feature film M*A*S*H. Both give excellent support. Capable actors Charles Aidman and Sydney Pollack, a future director, are fine as the concerned officers. Pollack wasn't seen much onscreen until Tootsie of twenty years later. There's good ensemble playing in this very un-action oriented picture.

MGM's DVD of War Hunt takes an okay transfer and gives it a barely-adequate encoding. Most scenes look fine, but shots crop up that go a little milky in the contrast, and perhaps didn't record to tape well. The sound is fine, especially that ill-chosen music track.

The one extra is a trailer that foolishly tries to sell this tiny picture as if it were The Longest Day 2, putting every bit of action behind painfully huped text. Unfortunately, when it doesn't deliver the expected combat thrills, it's easy to imagine audiences walking out on this movie. MGM Home Entertainment's marketing wisely skips the war hype and goes for the Robert Redford association. The cover uses an effective photo of the star, but its tagline about the 'fine line between soldier... and killer' makes us think Redford is the story's disturbed character.

One very positive thing to be said about War Hunt: it is far more accomplished than Stanley Kubrick's first war-themed feature, Fear and Desire. Both movies show great potential in their directors.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, War Hunt rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Good -
Sound: Good
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 20, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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