The Hunt Betty Gilpin

(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week’s column is a response to the recent shelving of a movie that’s been made previously many, many times before.)

As you’ve undoubtedly heard, a studio film scheduled for nation-wide release was recently pulled from Universal’s schedule in response to a tweet by the president and a vocal outcry by conservative pundits and followers. The detractors are misinformed as to the point of The Hunt (2019?) – and they seem to be equally oblivious as to how these films end (ie the intended targets defeat the merciless killers) – but the bigger head-scratcher is their general obliviousness that the film is just the latest variation in a long line of adaptations of “The Most Dangerous Game.”

Richard Connell’s acclaimed short story was published in 1924, and its tale of a man captured by a mad aristocratic sportsman and hunted as the most challenging prey quickly caught the public’s attention. The first adaptation for the screen arrived eight years later, and many more followed both official and unofficial including John Woo’s ridiculously fun Hard Target (1993), the soft-ish-core porn of The Suckers (1972), the Rutger Hauer-starring Surviving the Game (1994), and the gloriously bonkers Turkey Shoot (1982).

You know those, though, so I’m here to introduce some entertaining and/or engaging examples that you’ve probably missed over the years. The connective line between them is that, unlike a slasher where a killer stalks and kills unknowing victims, these Game riffs see people target and alert their prey for the clear intention of enjoying a hunt. So keep reading for the best “adaptations” of The Most Dangerous Game that you’ve probably never seen.

Run for the Sun (1956)

Mike Latimer left his career and fame as a bestselling novelist behind for the adventure and relaxation of an extended Mexican vacation. When a female reporter comes looking for him the two hit it off and come to enjoy each other’s company, but the romance is short-lived. A flight together over the jungle ends in a crash, and the pair find themselves rescued by two reclusive men with a swastika-shaped secret. Their hosts are Nazis – Nazis! – and soon Mike and Katie are on the run with armed men and vicious dogs on their trail.

This United Artists feature was the third movie to be officially adapted from Connell’s short story, and while it remains familiar the film’s big shift is to change the Russian madman for a Nazi. They’ve been an all-purpose villain for decades! The action plays out against some lush jungle settings (filmed outside Acapulco) and a plantation originally built in the 16th century, and both locales add to the film’s scope.

There’s more character work here than in earlier versions, and while that might leave some viewers less engaged it works for me in part because of the dynamic between Richard Widmark and Jane Greer. Their budding romance convinces, and their back stories work to create engaging enough characters – not that we need extra reasons to cheer them on in a fight against Nazis.

Run for the Sun is currently available on DVD.

The Naked Prey (1965)

A hunting safari in South Africa crosses paths with local tribesmen and commits something of a social faux pas by refusing to pay tribute. The tribe retaliates to the sleight by slaughtering the hunters and servants, but out of both respect and a spirit of sportsmanship they keep the guide alive. His punishment will be one of endurance – they strip him of his clothing and weaponry, send him into the baking heat of the African veld, and then one by one send hunters after him to kill their human prey.

This classic tale of survival doesn’t always get mentioned as a riff on The Most Dangerous Game, but if most definitely is. While the impetus for it all stems from an act of rudeness, the result remains the same as hunters set loose their prey as both a challenge to him and themselves. The unnamed man is the most dangerous “animal” they’ve stalked, the deadly adventure becomes one built on mutual respect and understanding up through its final moments.

That respect is a major part of director/star Cornel Wilde’s intention with the film as he was a filmmaker with a real interest in humanity’s role within nature. (See 1970’s No Blade of Grass for further evidence of that.) his film shows respect and reverence for the landscape, the wildlife, and the local tribes who call rural Africa home. It’s a beautiful movie, both visually and through that intent, and it’s one that tells its story without real villains. It’s not exactly a forgotten film, but too many people still haven’t seen it.

The Naked Prey is currently available on Blu-ray/DVD and streaming.

Open Season (1974)

Ken, Greg, and Art are best friends sharing a bond forged in Vietnam, but along with a shared interest in guns and hard partying they’re also connected in madness. Human lives have grown meaningless to them, and once each year they head to their remote cabin in the woods and bring along some unwilling participants for a weekend of fun. Emotional abuse, forced labor, and assault lead to ultimate intention – they release the couple into the woods with a thirty minute head start and then begin the hunt.

Director Peter Collinson’s (The Italian Job, 1969) mean and lean movie uses doesn’t offer too much lip service to the “crazy Vietnam vet” angle and instead makes it clear that while these guys lost their humanity in war they’re still functioning adults making their own choices. They’re the bad guys, pure and simple, but the film also makes curious work of their intended targets as they’re not exactly sympathetic. Happily, there’s another player in the mix who I’ll let you discover for yourself.

The film’s an intriguing little thriller worth watching on those merits alone, but it’s also worth seeking out for the cast. The legendary Peter Fonda passed away recently, and this marks one of his far lesser known films as he plays one of the madmen alongside Richard Lynch and John Phillip Law. All three are casually charismatic in their evil actions which makes them even more terrifying as human monsters, and both Cornelia Sharpe and William Holden also make memorable appearances.

Open Season is not currently available.

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