Thursday, September 24, 2015

Death Hunt

One of the manliest movies ever made reunites Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson from THE DIRTY DOZEN, though the nature of the story means they don’t share much screen time together. Very loosely based on an actual Canadian manhunt of the 1930s between the Mounties and a trapper calling himself Albert Johnson, DEATH HUNT features a script by Mark Victor and Michael Grais, who graduated from TV cop shows to POLTERGEIST, and direction by former 007 editor and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE director Peter R. Hunt. Backing up Marvin and Bronson are a coterie of sharp supporting actors, including Andrew Stevens (who would work again with Bronson in 10 TO MIDNIGHT) and POLICE WOMAN Angie Dickinson, whom Marvin romanced in POINT BLANK.

The real Johnson was probably less noble than Bronson’s portrayal. In DEATH HUNT, he rescues a bloody dog from a dogfight, handing the resistant owner (Ed Lauter) $200 in return. Hazel, the owner, tattles to local Mountie Millen (Marvin), who rightfully blows him off. Hazel and his buddies trek up to Johnson’s cabin in the Rockies to retrieve the mutt, and one of them is killed in the ensuing gunfight. Johnson was shooting in self-defense, but Millen has to get involved now that a man is dead.

Millen takes a straight-arrow Mountie (Stevens) and a tracker (Carl “Apollo Creed” Weathers) as part of his posse to visit Johnson. Based on a misunderstanding, one of the Mounties starts another gunfight, which leaves several more men dead, Johnson on the run into some of the coldest and most treacherous terrain in North America, and Millen on his trail.

The screenplay is as good as it needs to be, though what little dialogue is in it is clever. Its great weakness is Marvin’s perfunctory and dull affair with Dickinson, whose role is really just a cameo. The premise of man battling both man and nature combined with the star power of Marvin and Bronson is strong enough on its own. With few words to say, Bronson handles the challenge of expressing emotion and character through his eyes and his action, while Marvin ably tackles his “man in command.”

Hunt’s terse direction is appropriate for the story he’s telling, and he doesn’t skimp on the bloody violence. While DEATH HUNT isn’t packed with action — it’s more a tale of suspense — the stunts seem treacherous, particularly when staged in the frozen tundra of Alberta, where DEATH HUNT was filmed. Score by Jerrold Immel is bold to match the film’s heightened tension. Believe it or not, Golden Harvest, a company best known for chopsocky, produced for 20th Century Fox.

No comments: