Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on March 23, 1966
Directed by Cornel Wilde
Written by Clint Johnston and Don Peters
Cast: Cornel Wilde, Gert van den Bergh, Ken Gampu, Patrick Mynhardt, Bella Randles, Morrison Gampu, Sandy Nkomo, Eric Mcanyana, John Marcus, Richard Mashiya, Fusi Zazayokwe, Franklyn Mdhluli
One of the many cool films my Dad introduced me to when I was a kid, and one that immediately struck a chord with me when I first saw it: a man alone, showing resiliency and ingenuity as he fights for survival against impossible odds. I’d already found myself attracted to similarly-themed films at that young age—Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, Duel—and The Naked Prey was a literal stripped-down variation of this ‘man on the run’ storyline, presented in its most basic and primal form. It’s based on the true story of a wilderness explorer named John Colter, who was chased by Blackfoot Indians through Wyoming in the early 1800s.
Here the setting is changed to the African plains of the late 1800s, where Wilde plays a guide leading three men on safari in search of elephants to hunt down for their ivory. At one point they encounter a native tribe, who demand gifts for their leader. Wilde insists they comply, but the three men refuse, and insult the tribesman in the process. Soon the tribesman return and capture the hunting party, killing the three men in varying brutal ways and sending Wilde, naked and with no weapons, into the wide-open grasslands to be hunted down by a handful of tribal sportsmen.
But Wilde isn’t as much a pushover as they expect, and he turns the tables on them and escapes, with the surprised tribesman in pursuit. And this is basically the gist of the story: one man as prey, chased and hunted like an animal, trying to survive using only his wits and survival skills…a variation of The Most Dangerous Game transplanted to the savage, unforgiving African tundra. And that’s what I loved about it: the raw simplicity of it all, and a hero in Wilde I could really cheer for. He had cunning and smarts, but he got banged up a lot as well, and ran into as many dangers involving nature and wild animals as he did from his pursuers.
Wilde did a fantastic job both in front of and behind the camera, completely convincing (at age 52) as a man who could not only handle the physical aspects of the ordeal, but also survive four days on the run in such a hostile environment, with no food or water readily available to him. The film benefited from its location photography as well; though the occasional stock shot was seen throughout, everything else you saw was genuine on-location work in Zimbabwe and other South African locales. And with almost no dialogue present, the film relied on natural sounds and tribal music to help set the tone and tell the story.
This exciting wilderness adventure tale is well worth a look; it takes three themes—man vs man, man vs beast, and man vs nature—and weaves them into a compelling narrative, using harsh African landscapes, a feeling of desolation, and a constant sense of dread to deliver the goods. And kudos to Wilde for pulling double-duty as director and actor, and succeeding at both; of the nine films he directed over his career, I’d say this and the noir-themed Storm Fear were his best. (8/10)