Frank Calder, an outlaw leader, is dissatisfied with his wandering, shooting life and decides to better himself. He kidnaps Melissa Ruger, a substitute school teacher, and insists that she teach him how to read. Melissa's husband, Brandt, is a wealthy, sadistic man. When he discovers that his wife is missing, he gathers up a posse and sets out in pursuit. Armed with high powered rifles the pursuers pick off Calder's gang one by one. When all of Calder's gang have been killed Brandt hunts down Melissa and Calder for a final violent showdown.
Glum Prairie Tales
- The Hunting Party review by Count Otto Black
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Round about the end of the sixties, there were quite a few movies made that, although outwardly mainstream, had their hearts firmly in the anti-establishment camp. Many of them were in some allegorical way against the Vietnam War. And a fair number were westerns. Some of these subversive horse-operas worked better than others, but they all faced the same basic problem: how do you put across the message that shooting people is a bad way of solving problems in a genre where problems are nearly always solved by people being shot?
Hence this peculiar and deeply depressing film. As we learn even before the opening credits, Candice Bergen is miserably married to the absolutely vile Gene Hackman. Then she's mistaken for a schoolteacher and kidnapped by Oliver Reed, still a darkly brooding bad-boy sex-symbol in 1971, not the bloated wreck the booze would soon turn him into. Ludicrously, his motive turns out to be that he just wants to learn to read, and has absolutely no idea her husband is a mad millionaire with the resources to hunt him and his men down like animals. Bad mistake, Ollie...
And that's basically it. Our heroine inevitably falls in love with the rough diamond into whose arms fate has thrown her, mainly because he's not her husband. Along the way, we're treated to a disturbing number of scenes involving the rape, attempted rape, and general brutalization of poor Candice. They're not the least bit titillating because this film really, really doesn't want to make violence against women seem like a good idea, but there are still rather a lot of them, and they're no fun at all to watch. The same goes for the violence. Bullets cause realistic amounts of bloody damage when they hit bodies, and the victims sometimes take quite a while to die. Shooting people is clearly not at all a nice thing to do!
The trouble is, the movie is so busy putting its doubtless admirable message across that it forgets to be the slightest bit enjoyable on any level whatsoever. The outlaws, hunted by men with state-of-the-art rifles whose range their own weapons can't match, can basically do nothing but run for an hour and a half while being literally shot to bits. And Gene Hackman is wasted in a rôle where he has absolutely no character traits other than sadism. It means well, but it's an ugly, miserable film, and after watching it you may have to watch a gleefully irresponsible spaghetti western where hundreds of people die and it doesn't matter to cheer yourself up again.