Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Naked Prey

TCM's monthly Spotlight was on last night, this month dealing with survival movies and hosted by Ben Mankiewicz. I recorded The Naked Prey and watched it this morning since it's available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

Cornel Wilde, who also directed, stars as the Man, who has no other name. He's a safari guide in southern Africa sometime in the 19th century; I don't think an exact date was given. He's taking another man out on a safari, when some native African tribesmen show up. Wilde understands their dialect; the other guy doesn't. It turns out that they want some nominal payment in exchange for using their land, more or less. The other guy says no, and eventually the tribesmen respond by coming back and overrunning the safari party.

The tribe kills the other guy, but gives Wilde a chance at life. They strip him down to just a loincloth and give him a head start, only to have ten tribesmen head off after him not long after this. It seems like impossible odds, but if the odds were that long, we wouldn't have much of a movie, would we. The movie goes on like this for another 70 minutes or so, with Wilde trying to escape the tribesmen and make it back to the colonial fort, while for various reasons the tribesmen's number diminishes.

That's pretty much all there is to The Naked Prey. This lack of anything more than an extremely basic, primal plot, makes the movie a bit hard to review in the way you'd do a review of a more typical movie. There's also very little dialogue. Wilde is by himself for most of the movie, while when the tribesmen do talk, it's in their native language and not English. But the story is such that we can understand what they're talking about.

Having said all that, The Naked Prey is more than worth a watch. That very basic plot makes the action easy to follow, and it's easy to have sympathy with both sides of the chase. There's also a lot of beautiful cinematography, as the movie wsa filmed on location in South Africa and the then Rhodesia. There is what looks like stock wildlife footage interspersed, used to good effect to show the brutality of nature. However, all of that footage looks like it's on slightly different film stock, or taken with a telephoto lens, or something that makes it just enough different to be noticeable. I doubt there was much Wilde could do to get around that without ballooning the budget, however.

It's a shame that the Criterion Collection DVDs are so expensive. But for those who do the streaming thing, The Naked Prey is also available from Amazon video.

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