Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Hunters

Tomorrow on TCM brings up a day of films starring Robert Mitchum. One that I haven't blogged about before is The Hunters, which you can catch at 4:45 PM

Mitchum plays Major Cleve Saville, a US Air Force officer during the Korean War. He's heading back from Japan to Korea to take part in more missions against the Communists' MiGs, but first has to deal with another pilot who has serious self-confidence issues. First Lieutenant Carl Abbott (Lee Phillips) has yet to shoot down a plane, and he thinks he's never going to get a good mission. To deal with this, he's taken to the bottle, which unsurprisingly is a problem for a pilot. Anyhow, Lt. Abbott drinks himself into a stupor, such that Cleve and Carl's wife Kristina (May Britt) have to take him back to the Abbott's place in Japan, which seems impossibly big for a soldier, but that's another story. It fairly quickly becomes apparent that the filmmakers want us to think that Cleve would be the more appropriate man for Kristina, and that this is going to be one of the running themes of the movie.

The other theme, of course, is Maj. Saville's difficulties in dealing with the new pilots the Air Force is giving him. Saville fought in the previous war, World War II, and he's a lifer. Flying in World War II was different from flying in Korea, and the young pilots just don't seem to have the same respect for flying that the Major thinks he has. Get off his lawn, or maybe his cloud. The part of the hot-shot young flyer, Lt. Ed Pell, is played by Robert Wagner.

And so we get the set-up for the dramatic climax of the movie. The pilots go on missions, especially wary of one Chinese pilot who goes by the nickname "Casey Jones" who is the one pilot to be the equal of the best American pilots. He's shot down quite a few American planes, and he's back in action. They'd like to get him, but of course it's not going to be that easy.

Indeed, one of the missions is going to see a pilot get downed behind enemy lines! That pilot is Lt. Abbott, and if it weren't for military discipline, we'd probably be happy to see the jerk get what's coming to him, and Saville and the widow Abbott can get married and live happily after. But of course, that would be a terrible ending for a film, so we need something a little more dramatic. And what we get is certainly that: Maj. Saville ditches his plane, and Lt. Pell lets himself be downed too, so that the two of them can find Lt. Abbott and bring him to safety! This despite behing well behind enemy lines and having no real idea of the lay of the land. It also doesn't help that Abbott is fairly injured.

The result is a movie that treads over a lot of territory that we've seen before in previous war movies. Not that it does most of the stuff badly; it's just that other movies did these things better. What The Hunters has going for it is its color cinematography, as well as the presence of Robert Mitchum, who gives a professional performance as always. If you like war movies, The Hunters is entertaining enough but will never achieve greatness.

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