Fox // 1958 // 112 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Mark Van Hook (Retired) // July 31st, 2004
Mrs. Abbott: You wanted combat?
Maj. Saville: Sure.
Mrs. Abbott: Why? Do you like the war?
Maj. Saville: It's the only one I've got.
Part soap opera, part men-on-a-mission story, The Hunters is a sturdy but unremarkable entry into Fox's "War Classics" series. Solid performances (save one) and good use of locations highlight this story of two men on the same side of a war, but opposite sides of the fight for a woman.
While stopping in Japan on his way to Korea, Air Force Major Cleve Saville meets a younger flyer (Lee Phillips) soon to be under his command. But the Major soon finds himself falling for the pilot's beautiful wife, Kristina (May Britt), who the younger man has been neglectful of for some time. And when the two pilots are shot down behind enemy lines (along with a hotshot flyer played by Robert Wagner), they are forced to put aside their animosity in a desperate fight for survival.
Trying to combine romance and wartime combat in a single film is usually a risky proposition, as it's difficult to inject both elements into the same story and give each the time it requires to fully develop. It's a credit, then, to director Dick Powell and screenwriter Wendell Mayes (not to mention star Robert Mitchum) that in The Hunters, the combination of these elements ends up working fairly well. While the film is neither a great romance nor a great war picture, it's serviceable enough in both departments to remain consistently entertaining for its entire duration. The whole really is better than the sum of the parts.
It helps, of course, to have an actor of Mitchum's caliber in the lead role, playing the kind of part that he excelled at: the tough, aging, unaffected soldier who soon learns to let down his guard, here at the behest of a woman. His Major Saville is nicknamed The Iceman (is this where Val Kilmer's Top Gun character received his moniker?), and is known for his lack of emotion, both in his personal life and up in the air. It's only when Kristina enters into his life that cracks in Saville's gruff exterior begin to show, and this is where Mitchum is able to show off his under-appreciated acting range. We believe his love for her is real, and the internal struggle he faces in falling for the wife of his younger wingman is made all the more dynamic because of it. He takes good material and elevates it to a higher level.
Robert Wagner, conversely, takes bad material and does nothing with it. Introduced far too late in the film, his Lt. Pell is supposed to be a cocky, play-by-his-own-rules flyer, and we're told in one scene that the character is supposed to show shades of Saville's younger days. In truth, Pell is more annoying than cocky, and he's given some of the worst faux-hipster dialogue you're ever likely to hear. His vocabulary is filled with anachronisms like "Daddy-O" and "Cool, man," and Wagner's delivery is so flat and uninspired that it makes the lines seem all the more dated. This kind of stuff may have seemed brash and rebellious in 1958, when the film was produced, but heard today, it's laughable, and Wagner doesn't help it one bit.
The rest of the cast is serviceable and nothing more. May Britt, as Kristina, is rather dull, and it's to Mitchum's credit that he can make us believe his love for her even when we can't see why he bothers. Lee Phillips does admirable work with Lt. Abbott, but one gets the feeling that a better actor (a Montgomery Clift, for instance) could have elevated the role to loftier heights.
The film's flying scenes rank as some of the best of their time. They're realistically choreographed, but we never lose sight of who the good guys and bad guys are. The lead-ins to these scenes, with a squadron of American planes flying into battle to composer Paul Sawtell's generic march theme, are a bit hammy, but once the action starts, the excitement is ratcheted up considerably.
The Hunters was directed by Dick Powell, the musical/comedy star who reinvented himself as a tough guy in Edward Dmytryk's landmark film noir, Murder, My Sweet, before turning to directing in 1953. This would be his fifth and final film as a director, and it's directed efficiently enough to prove that Powell had considerable talents, both in front of and behind the camera.
Presented as part of Fox's War Classics series, the DVD presentation of The Hunters looks terrific. Colors are bright and vibrant with very little bleeding, and flesh tones are accurate. The original 2.35:1 Cinemascope aspect ratio has been faithfully captured on disc, and the transfer reproduces this beautifully shot film with striking clarity. The disc's flip side includes the same transfer cropped into full-frame, but as with all such transfers (especially taken from Cinemascope), the full-frame version isn't worth a look.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 4.0 and sounds excellent, with the flying scenes in particular packing real punch. The track makes good use of the surround field, and although it's not quite enough to make one feel that they're up in the air, it's no slouch by any means. Subtitles are included in both Spanish and English for the hearing impaired.
The only extras of note are a painfully brief Movietone Newsreel, shot at the film's premiere, and both teaser and theatrical trailers.
Though not a masterpiece, The Hunters is nevertheless a solid showcase for the skills of Robert Mitchum, certainly one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood history. Fox's DVD of the film is excellent, with the video and audio presentation being particular standouts. For around 10 bucks on the street, Mitchum fans should have no qualms about picking this one up.
Not guilty on all counts. Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2004 Mark Van Hook; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 4.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Teaser Trailer
* Theatrical Trailer
* Premiere Footage