A gotta-see-it-to-believe-it product of the early seventies, when the
production code governing film content had just been abolished, and
American moviemakers responded by unleashing a veritable tsunami of sex
THE HUNTING PARTY (1971) is among the wildest of the
so-called revisionist westerns of the early seventies. Inspired in equal
parts by the ultra-violent Euro-Westerns of the late sixties and Sam
Peckinpah’s ground-breakingly bloody THE WILD BUNCH, these films
included SOLDIER BLUE (1970), McCABE AND MRS. MILLER (1971), DOC (1971)
and DIRTY LITTLE BILLY (1972).
The revisionists’ stated aim was to demythologize the
old west, but more often than not what they ended up with were
gratuitous spectacles of violence and ugliness. That was definitely the
case with THE HUNTING PARTY, which is notable these days for its
prestigious cast: Gene Hackman (mere months before his breakthrough role
in THE FRENCH CONNECTION), Oliver Reed and Candice Bergen.
Brandt Ruger is a wealthy cattle baron--and all-around
psychopath--with a cowed schoolteacher wife named Melissa. One day
Melissa is kidnapped by Frank Calder, a notorious outlaw who rides with
a couple dozen fellow bandits. Frank claims he just wants her to teach
him to read, but it’s clear from the start he has a thing for Melissa,
and nor is she entirely unresponsive to him--he’s certainly much nicer
than her husband.
Speaking of which, Brandt happens to be on a train en
route to a massive hunt; his activities during the train ride include
burning a whore’s vagina with a cigar. The following day he learns of
his wife’s kidnapping and flies into a rage. Brandt doesn’t much care
about her, he just hates his “property” being taken from him, and nor is
he too keen on wasting money on a ransom. Rather, he hastily gathers
together a hunting party, arms them with expensive long-range rifles and
tracks down Frank’s gang.
Brandt and his party announce their presence by taking
out several of Frank’s men from a distant bluff, then they shoot several
more at a nearby watering hole. In both cases Brandt refrains from
shooting Frank or Melissa, but otherwise treats his pray like they’re
animals to be hunted.
Not that Frank’s gang is much better: during a
nighttime stopover at a desert inn one of his men tries to rape Melissa,
and is halted only when she stabs him. The man is finished off by
Brandt, who stabs him in the neck and continues the increasingly brutal
Eventually Frank and Melissa, the only surviving
members of Frank’s gang, are left to cross a blazing desert on foot.
There (in a twisted take on the finale of GREED) Brandt finishes them
off, shooting Frank several times in the chest and Melissa in the
crotch(!) before keeling over from heatstroke.
THE HUNTING PARTY’S opening sequence, juxtaposing a
horse slaughter with Melissa being painfully raped by her husband,
adequately sets the tone. It’s an ugly film in every sense of the
word. Director Don Medford really has an eye for graphic violence, from
the sight of exploding blood bursts on actors’ torsos to a lingering
close-up of a freshly killed man’s twitching legs. There’s plenty of
blood, perversion and perhaps the scummiest “hero” this side of Popeye
Doyle (who appropriately enough was also played by Gene Hackman). For
that matter, nearly everyone in the film is evil and/or psychotic to
varying degrees, with the one sympathetic character, Melissa, getting
manhandled in nearly every way imaginable (giving us a good view of
Candice Bergen‘s enviable physique!).
It’s a good thing there’s so much nastiness on display,
because it’s all that keeps the proceedings afloat. The photography is
cheap, the set-ups pedestrian and the pacing catatonic--and at nearly
two full hours the film is far too long. But with so much bloody mayhem
on display it’s definitely not boring!
THE HUNTING PARTY
Director: Don Medford
Producer: Lou Morheim
Screenplay: William Norton, Gilbert Alexander, Lou Morheim
Cinematography: Cecilio Paniagua
Editing: Tom Rolf
Cast: Oliver Reed, Candice Bergen, Gene Hackman, Simon Oakland, Mitchell
Ryan, L.Q. Jones, Ronald Howard, William Watson, G.D. Spradlin, Rayford
Barnes, Bernard Kay, Richard Adams, Dean Selmier