The Hunting Party (1971)
By: Stuart Giesel on October 11, 2012 | Comments
MGM | Region 4, PAL | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 111 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Don Medford
Starring: Oliver Reed, Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, Simon Oakland, Ronald Howard
Screenplay: William W. Norton, Gilbert Alexander, Lou Morheim
Country: USA
External Links
IMDB Rotten YouTube
The Hunting Party is a fairly obscure western that was presumably overshadowed by more famous examples of its ilk in the day, such as Chisum, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Soldier Blue, Little Big Man, A Man Called Horse, Chato's Land, The Cowboys... well, all of them, really. Apparently heavily criticized at the time for its gory violence, The Hunting Party is actually a pretty decent western thanks to the three central performances of Oliver Reed, Candice Bergen and the always brilliant Gene Hackman.

The story's pretty simple. Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman) is a sadistic cattle rancher with money to burn. His wife Melissa (Candice Bergen) is kidnapped by outlaw Frank Calder (Oliver Reed) and his gang. Calder wants Melissa, a school teacher, to teach him how to read. Ruger doesn't give a shit; as far as he's concerned, his wife is his property and no one - NO ONE -  steals from Ruger. Ruger gets together a hunting party with his mates and equips them with high-powered rifles that can shoot 800 yards, giving them a noticeable advantage over Calder's gang. And the hunt begins.

First, I have to get something out of the way - the violence. Holy shit! Sam Peckinpah's got nothing on The Hunting Party. This has to be the most violent western ever made. You know you're in for a wild ride when the opening scene has a cowboy slitting the throat of a cow - a real cow! - in graphic detail. Once Hackman's band of rich white bastards with their scoped rifles get on the scene and pick off Reed's group, there's nothing left to the imagination. People die left and right in glorious, bloody slo-mo. Gaping bullet holes abound to the chest, head, leg, everywhere. No one is spared. When people die, they don't die cleanly or slowly; they thrash around and bleed out. And it's not just the shocking bloodflow that unsettles, but the general nihilism of the picture. Just about everyone's a fucking scumbag and worthy of death. Even the so-called good guys aren't that much better than the bad guys. Oliver Reed, who I assume is meant to be the hero, rapes Candice Bergen at the start of their relationship. I know, I know, it was a different time back then, when men were men and women were...playthings. But it's still a pretty unpleasant scenario.

Thankfully Gene Hackman is present to lend an air of gravitas to the bloody proceedings, playing as nasty a bad guy as you're ever likely to see him play, and that includes his brutal Little Bill Daggett from Unforgiven. Hackman always brought an air of excellence to every project, so it's thrilling to see him playing a real shit here. In truth, the character of Brandt Ruger is portrayed as so diabolically twisted - he starts the movie by torturing a prostitute with a lit cigar - that it's a struggle for Hackman to turn him into a believable person. Clearly in an effort to distance his character's rottenness from the other characters' rottenness, the filmmakers had to go for broke. Oliver Reed plays a (slightly) more noble character than Ruger; his outlaw may be a shitheel, but he's a principled shitheel, and comes to care for Melissa as they struggle to keep ahead of the hunting party. Bergen does well with a pretty thankless role -- she's not some useless damsel in distress, but equally she knows she's caught between the affections of two brutal men and that there's only so much she can do.

The other things that stand out in The Hunting Party, other than the extreme violence and central performances, is the eye-catching cinematography and slick editing. It's too long by far, and by the time the bleak resolution rolls around you'll wonder what the hell the point of it all was, but it's nothing if not watchable, especially if you don't mind a bit of claret.
Video
It's a western, so colours are earthy and realistic when people aren't bursting open like bloody pinatas. Day scenes are bright and vivid, but overall the picture is a little soft for my liking.
Audio
The English stereo track doesn't exactly pop, even in the bloody gunfights, but it's a serviceable enough soundtrack, certainly one that isn't going to test the limits of your system.
Extra Features
The disc includes the theatrical trailer.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The Hunting Party is as mean, sadistic and violent a western as they come. It's as if the makers decided to one-up Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch in terms of bloodletting, although it doesn't approach The Wild Bunch's level of excellence. This is still a very watchable western, but other than the gore, the performances and some nice scenery there's little else of merit. Fans of John Ford need not apply.

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