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The Last Hunt

10 Sep

Westerns, especially the classics of the 50s, tackled just about every theme imaginable, often passing comment on universal concerns that transcend the genre itself. That of course is one of the western’s great strengths, it’s ability to resonate widely. However, the genre has also dealt with what might be termed more direct concerns too, actions and events that impacted  on the shaping of the frontier and the course of US history. Bearing in mind that the old west was essentially a wilderness, it’s no surprise that animals occupied such an important place in the minds of those who lived there. There are countless examples on film highlighting the importance to the native people and settlers alike of the horse. How many times have we witnessed the contempt and hatred directed towards horse thieves? In a primal landscape covering vast distances, the theft of a man’s sole means of transport was naturally one of the foulest crimes. However, the horse wasn’t the only animal which played a significant role in the development of the frontier. The buffalo, that great beast which sustained and dominated the lives of the plains Indians, was every bit as vital in its own way. As such, it’s perhaps surprising that The Last Hunt (1956) is one of the few westerns that concentrates on the fate of those creatures which once roamed in huge numbers across the continent.

The Last Hunt is the story of two quite different men, Sandy McKenzie (Stewart Granger) and Charlie Gilson (Robert Taylor), who enter into an uneasy partnership. Sandy is a famed buffalo hunter, but he’s also a man sickened by killing and has abandoned his old profession to turn his attention to the cattle business. However, fate has other ideas and, when a buffalo stampede wipes out his herd, a chance meeting with war veteran Charlie leads him reluctantly back to hunting. While Sandy has seen more than enough bloodshed, Charlie has something approaching an obsession with death. Charlie’s wartime experiences have clearly left a mark, and he seems to live to kill. The contrasting approaches of the two  men is highlighted during one of the hunt scenes. Having established a stand, the camera switches between this pair as they go about the slow, methodical business of picking off the buffalo herd. Charlie’s features are fixed in a mask of sadistic delight as one animal after another drops and breathes its last. Conversely, Sandy is stricken by conscience and is on the verge of breaking down and weeping at the thought of the devastation he’s participating in. If the radically different perspectives of the partners weren’t a great enough source of conflict, their rivalry is further complicated when Charlie captures a young Indian girl (Debra Paget) and takes her as his woman. Along with his wide sadistic streak, Charlie is also an unashamed racist with a deep suspicion and hatred of the Indian. He considers the girl to be his personal property, one of the spoils of war if you like, to be used or abused as he pleases. Not only does Sandy regard this kind of boorishness as an affront  to his sense of morality and civilized behaviour, but he also finds himself developing feelings for the girl himself. Charlie’s mounting paranoia and Sandy’s growing self-disgust, fueled both by their slaughter of the buffalo and the presence of the girl in their midst, see the tensions rise inexorably. Sooner or later, these two will have to face off and settle their scores, and the climax of the movie is a memorably chilling one in every sense as the final confrontation takes place during a freezing blizzard.

Richard Brooks started out as a writer, scripting films such as Brute Force, Crossfire and Key Largo before moving into directing with the Cary Grant suspenser Crisis in 1950. He didn’t work much within the western genre, making only Bite the Bullet, The Professionals and The Last Hunt. As a writer, he tended to tackle complex and controversial subjects and his first western as director (with a script credit too) saw him continue in a similar vein. The Last Hunt works in the theme of racism alongside its ecological message; the systematic elimination of the buffalo was essentially a government sponsored programme once the realization set in that the army wasn’t going to defeat the Indians through conventional military tactics. The buffalo had a special place within Indian culture, providing not only a source of food but also many of the essentials of life. The Indians used almost every part of the animals to make clothing, shelter, and tools. Therefore, it’s impossible to overestimate the status of these creatures as far as the native people were concerned. Brooks highlights the mysticism involved when he features a white buffalo, a sacred figure. This device also serves to draw attention again to the differences between Charlie and Sandy: Sandy is entranced by the sight of such a rarity, while Charlie sees only profit and immediately slays it. Although this is, superficially at least, a fairly simple tale, there’s a lot going on and Brooks blends it all together very successfully, ensuring that a brisk pace is maintained without sacrificing any of the necessary character development.

Robert Taylor is an actor whose work I’ve featured regularly on this site and The Last Hunt offered him one of his very best roles, maybe even the best. Generally, he played heroic figures but this film saw him take on the persona of an irredeemable rogue. I’ve read comments in the past which indicated Taylor had  doubts about his own abilities as a performer, but roles such as Charlie Gilson prove that there was no basis for such harsh self-criticism. I always feel the best and most effective movie villains have the knack of drawing a degree of sympathy or pity from the viewer, and that’s the case with Taylor’s portrayal here. There’s no question that Charlie is a bad lot, but Taylor brought a certain fragility to the part and that adds an interesting variation to what could have been a bland and routine character. Stewart Granger might seem an odd choice for a western hero but here, in his second genre picture, he’s both comfortable and convincing. Apparently, Granger took to the whole western experience off-screen too and was well thought of by the crew. He’s very effective as the conscience-stricken counterbalance to Taylor’s killing machine and the two actors play well off each other. The Last Hunt is another of those movies with a small central cast; they’re usually quite successful at rounding out the characters and offering some more depth. In this case, the two protagonists benefit more from the increased focus though. Debra Paget as the captive Indian girl is never named and remains a slightly colourless presence throughout, albeit a strikingly attractive one. After appearing in Broken Arrow, this was Paget’s third outing as an Indian maiden and it must have looked like she was going to be permanently typecast at this point. Whatever you say about Paget, I don’t think anyone could mistake Russ Tamblyn for a native American. Nevertheless, he was cast as the half-breed hired by Sandy and Charlie, and his sympathetic presence is used to emphasize the blind bigotry of the latter and the relative enlightenment of the former. Best of all among the supporting players though is Lloyd Nolan, another initially questionable choice for a western. Nolan had a very  urban air about him and I tend to think of quick talking cops and the character of Michael Shayne whenever I see him. Still, he really embraced the part of the one-legged buffalo skinner and turned in a very  memorable performance.

For a long time The Last Hunt was only available on DVD in Europe. However, the film has recently made its US debut via the Warner Archive. I can’t comment on the quality of that particular transfer though as I don’t own a copy. I have the French release by WB, which looks reasonable although the scope image is letterboxed and non-anamorphic. In common with the majority of Warner titles released in Europe, it’s a bare bones affair with optional subtitles that can be deselected on the setup menu. The movie itself is a real keeper, a bit of a neglected gem that looks good, has fine performances, and makes a number of interesting points about man’s impact on the environment and race relations. The wider availability of this title on DVD may hopefully raise the profile of a film that’s well deserving of some renewed attention.

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53 responses to “The Last Hunt

  1. Randy Johnson

    September 10, 2012 at 9:39 am

    A favorite of mine, both the film and the novel on which it was based. I covered the novel here:

    http://randall120.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/ffb-the-last-hunt-milton-lott

     
    • Colin

      September 10, 2012 at 9:44 am

      Hi Randy. I’ve never read the novel, so thanks for the link – I’ll pop over and see what you have to say about it.

       
  2. Cavershamragu

    September 10, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Great review Colin – and this film of course also has a classic ending going for it. Actually I always reckoned Brooks was particularly good at those (especially highly dramatic ones such as the provocative LOOKING FOR MR GOODBAR and the underrated SOMETHING OF VALUE – of course he also starred his then wife Jean Simmons (who was Granger’s Mrs at the time of THE LAST HUNT, right?) in a film entitles, ironically, … THE HAPPY ENDING). Brooks is a fascinating filmmaker though I often admire his films more than I like them, even more populist fare like THE PROFESSIONALS. My favourite is IN COLD BLOOD from the Capote book, which is brilliantly controlled and more than a little chilly but utterly brilliant. Pedantic and very minor point – he wrote the novel on which CROSSFIRE was based but didn’t write the screenplay

     
    • Colin

      September 10, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      Cheers Sergio. And oops! You’re right (of course) Brooks did indeed pen the novel which Crossfire was based on.

      And yes, Granger was married to Jean Simmons at the time this film was made, but she was to become Mrs Brooks a few years later.

      I certainly agree that Brooks was an interesting filmmaker, but maybe something of an acquired taste. I’m quite fond of his Tennessee Williams adaptations though, The Professionals is a bit special.

       
      • Cavershamragu

        September 10, 2012 at 10:00 pm

        I really like THE PROFESSIONALS, probably seen it about 10 times over the years, and again, I really like the ending – I don’t mean to sound down on Brooks at all – in fact, I’m one of the very few people I know who went to see THE MAN WITH THE DEADLY LENS (aka RIGHT IS WRONG) at the cinema – can’t remember a lot about it, but that last gag with Connery is priceless. But he did seem to make films where the characters are often, while very well drawn, actually quite hard to like. I like CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF though I hate the fact that he completely re-wrote the third act so it seems have more in common with Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN than Williams. Less keen on SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, but then it’s a lesser play. The only one film of his I really didn’t connect with was LORD JIM despite he great James Mason.

         
        • Colin

          September 10, 2012 at 10:20 pm

          Good point. There does tend to be something about his characters that kind of distances them, or as you say makes them hard to like. Even in The Last Hunt there’s an annoying quality to the hero’s passivity for long stretches – Sandy is essentially a decent and sympathetic character, but he takes an awful long time to act, and even then it’s more reaction to the threat of Charlie than anything else.

          I’ve never seen Lord Jim, now that you mention it.

           
          • Cavershamragu

            September 10, 2012 at 10:32 pm

            I do think that Brooks chose to take the harder path and admire him for that – and you can see why he got on well with John Huston, especially for his strong literary roots without feeling too beholden to his sources.

             
            • Colin

              September 11, 2012 at 8:34 am

              The point about Brooks and Huston is a fair one. It’s interesting too that both of them worked with Bogart, although Huston’s collaborations are obviously better known and more successful.

               
  3. muriel

    September 11, 2012 at 1:41 am

    One of my favorite westerns! Great review. Another movie where I like Taylor as the bad guy is “Conspirator”.
    Speaking of psychological westerns…Have you seen “Tribute to a Bad Man” with James Cagney? It’s very interesting. Cagney was a horse lover and breeder so he brings great understanding to the part of a horse breeder driven to a very nasty revenge when his beloved horses are injured.

     
    • Colin

      September 11, 2012 at 8:19 am

      Thanks Muriel. Taylor really tried to broaden his repertoire as he got older, and was determined to move away from the pretty boy romantic leads he started out playing.
      You’ve got me on those two titles – I have to confess I’ve never seen either, although Tribute to a Bad Man has been on my wanted list for a while now.

       
  4. Blake Lucas

    September 12, 2012 at 1:08 am

    You have a way about writing on many of my favorite Westerns, Colin. This is another one. I’ve always considered it one of the greatest Westerns, and do have the DVD, one I’d been waiting for. Haven’t looked at it yet so sorry I can’t comment though I seem to recall the screen captures somewhere indicated it will look very good. Naturally, reading your fine piece made me keen to watch again sooner rather than later.

    I don’t have too much to add to your excellent account of the film. Westerns with an equally strong hero and villain are so often the best. For me, these are the best roles of both Granger and Taylor and I like both actors generally. Those five characters are all good, and I’m so glad to see Russ Tamblyn in anything that I don’t care if he seems strange casting as an Indian–anyway, the character is a half-breed so he doesn’t defy belief and his performance is so good as always.

    On the historical angle of Indians/buffalo/violence/racism and how those themes play together, this is just such an extraordinary film, harsher than any other of the period (though not cynical about this as a 70s Western would be) and it runs pretty deep. I would add that although this aspect is plainly central, the movie is perhaps no less memorable as a personal drama. Hero and villain, as in many great Westerns, are doubles and gain extra resonance from this. And Sandy plays out my own favorite theme in Westerns–of renewal and redemption. Yes, he is slow to act, and even seems afraid of Charlie, clearly the faster gun, but he does gain the courage, gains wisdom, follows that spiritual path to true heroism. By the way, in that early scene of shooting buffalo, he actually does cry–one of the movie’s best moments.

    There are half a dozen really outstanding Richard Brooks films, with this one at the very top, though I’d agree about IN COLD BLOOD, which I like almost as well. But he’s a very uneven director and his weak ones are as weak as his strong ones are strong. The two much-seen Williams adaptations are boring, and LORD JIM is especially disappointing given that it has the best source of all his films in Conrad’s great novel (but maybe this says something about adaptating great works instead of taking something else and making a great movie out of it). His other Westerns BITE THE BULLET and THE PROFESSIONALS are significant Brooks films for having affinities and reflecting the same sensibility as THE LAST HUNT, even if they are in tone so different, but though they are interesting to me, they are such mild films by comparison, more to be enjoyed than taken deeply to heart. In addition to THE LAST HUNT and IN COLD BLOOD, the other top tier Brooks films for me are ELMER GANTRY, TAKE THE HIGH GROUND, BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and THE HAPPY ENDING, all memorable and holding up well when one comes back to them.

     
    • Colin

      September 12, 2012 at 8:53 am

      Hello Blake, and thanks for the response.

      The subject matter of the movie lends it a lot of power right away, but the small, tight central cast living in each other’s pockets for much of the running time helps crank up the tension and pressure considerably. That, and the fact the characters are all so well defined. I didn’t mean to sound harsh about Tamblyn, if that’s how it came across. I like him as an actor too, and he does fine in The Last Hunt. I know he was playing a half-breed yet, apart from the very early scenes, there really was nothing about his appearance to suggest this. Even so, every character in the movie appeared to be aware of his ethnicity with just one look – I couldn’t help but be struck by this.

      That’s a reasonable enough summation of Brooks’ filmography but I remain fond of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – I especially enjoyed Newman and Ives’ scenes together. I quite agree that Elmer Gantry is a first class production though.

      BTW, having read Randy’s excellent piece on the source novel, I decided to track it down and a copy is on its way to me at this moment.

       
      • Blake Lucas

        September 12, 2012 at 3:32 pm

        You’re right, I wouldn’t have taken Tamblyn for an Indian (or even a half-breed either) unlike the characters in the movie. But I just accept something like this because I know I’m expected to–no problem for me if the actor himself seems convinced of it. Randy’s piece on the source novel does describe the character as red-headed in the novel too.

        I didn’t say so specifically even though I praised the characters, but like you I respond to a small group of characters in a Western, which of course also describes key films of Walsh, Mann, Boetticher, others, as well as this one. It just works so well. Your phrase “living in each other’s pockets” describes it so well, especially this film.

        In some post-classical Westerns, heroes are as casual (and sometimes close to being as cheerful) about killing as Charlie is here. That’s sobering. By contrast, the way he is treated is chilling, which actually makes this aspect more compelling.

        I think a lot of people do like Brooks’ Williams adaptations, especially CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, so it’s no big deal for me to like them less. In any event, I try to judge filmmakers by their best films so like him for the ones I do feel are good or great.

         
        • Colin

          September 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm

          The attitude to violence, and violent men, is one area where the differences between the classical and more contemporary westerns are heavily pronounced. Westerns from the 50s and early 60s could have their fair share of violence within, but it was rare to see this aspect portrayed in anything but the most negative light – I kind of touched on this a while back when I looked at The Bounty Hunter, and the way that particular profession was regarded at the time.
          Jump forward a couple of decades and it’s immediately apparent that the act of killing a man is treated, as you said, much more casually – although it has to be said Eastwood’s Unforgiven takes pains to point out just the reverse: “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”

           
          • Blake Lucas

            September 12, 2012 at 6:03 pm

            Yes, Eastwood–though he had participated in the modernist change re violence from playing the Man with No Name on–plainly was responding against it in UNFORGIVEN and that’s one reason why it’s one of the few modernist Westerns I do think is great. It is interesting, though, that he still, commendably, chooses to treat his protagonist in a way that makes for a complex reading. The killings done by the Eastwood character are not more sympathetic than anyone else’s in the film, and it’s disquieting to find this is the one thing he is really good at, but recovering this violent part of himself also seems to cure him of the illnesses he has taken on during the film’s journey and at the end riding away in the rain, he seems self-possessed and pulled together. I like this–Eastwood made the film challenging. And uncharacteristically so–in the long run, I have not found him a complex artist, not nearly so great as others claim him to be and as he himself thinks he is.

            To even come near the level of 50s characters in Westerns–heroes or villains–is an achievement. And I guess while we are on THE LAST HUNT, I might want to add this about Charlie. I once made a list for myself of best villains in Westerns–of course, they are concentrated in the 50s, and he made it into the top four along with Emerson Cole/Arthur Kennedy in BEND OF THE RIVER, Masters/Lee Marvin in SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, Frank Usher/Richard Boone in THE TALL T. The other three are more charming or likeable than Charlie, but all four are complex–I was very impressed the way Robert Taylor gave himself to such dark villainy without creating any distance from the character the way a lesser actor might do. It’s not what MGM trained him to do. As I said earlier, I like both Granger and Taylor generally but in Taylor’s case it’s mostly for his mature roles in his postwar phase, when he was no longer a pretty boy and became more interesting.

             
            • Colin

              September 12, 2012 at 6:21 pm

              Yeah, I think Taylor produced a wonderful body of work in the post-war years despite, or maybe because of, the doubts he apparently had regarding his own abilities.
              The role of Charlie Gilson is very complex, the kind that’s hard to pull off convincingly. There’s not good in the man yet Taylor invested him with something I can only describe as a kind of innocence; there’s an emotional immaturity to the man, especially in the scenes where he’s genuinely puzzled as to why Paget’s character rejects him. He knows that others fear and dislike him, but seems incapable of fathoming the reason for this.

               
  5. Blake Lucas

    September 12, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    To add to above, if I were making that list now and went to five, it would again be Arthur Kennedy for Vic Hansbro in THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, easily the most sympathetic character of those five too. I missed the discussion when you wrote on this but this aspect was taken up there and I really appreciated what you and others said. Some felt (and I do too) that it is startling when one first sees the film and he turns out to be the bad guy late in the film, because they had liked the character and seen his side of things. But that was one of the great strengths of the film–it’s fair to find Vic not simply a villain but a genuinely tragic figure, which Donald Crisp’s Alec is as well. Stewart’s Will Lockhart understood this and was right to turn his back on revenge against Vic in that memorable climactic sequence, one of the most memorable in any Western.

     
    • Colin

      September 12, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      Kennedy’s turn as Vic is great movie acting, wrong-footing the viewers in terms of expectations, and the reveal is a wonderful shock moment – a real kick in the guts for the audience. It sets up the climax perfectly and manipulates the audience with great skill.

       
  6. Andrew

    September 13, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Absolutely love this film – I’ve never seen Taylor or Granger do better work.
    Thanks to Randy for the tip about the source novel. I’ll have to track that down.
    Another novel which has very similar themes and immediately made me think of “The Last Hunt” when I read it is “Butcher’s Crossing” by John Williams. He’s a very fine writer and the book is excellent. It’s available in a nice edition from New York Review Books: http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/classics/butchers-crossing/
    If you enjoyed “The Last Hunt” it’s worth tracking down. Worth it regardless, really.

     
    • Colin

      September 13, 2012 at 9:53 am

      Thanks for the link Andrew. The synopsis certainly makes the book sound interesting and worth checking out.

       
  7. dario

    September 13, 2012 at 10:43 am

    PLEASE, CAN ANYONE HELP ME … ???
    Dears Sirs,

    my name is DARIO FERRARO, I am an italian man 65 y.o., I was grown up looking at the great western films of the period ’40 – ’50 – ’60, the period of the golden age of Hollywood.
    I have cultivated a real passion for all concerning western films and, of course, history of West.
    In my mind I have the names of almost all the actors who have played western films, not only in the main role, but also in the secondary or third role, all those actors whose face you see and see again in many films without knowing their names : well, with an accurate research of crossing names of the head titles of the films (nowadays, with internet, my research has become much easier than in the past), I have been able, in my passion, to give a name to any actor who had played a western film.
    The reason of this mail of mine to you is to ask your help in a research of mine that I am not able to resolve, and that is :

    – in the film THE LAST HUNT (1956) directed by Richard Brooks, actors Stewart Granger, Robert Taylor, Debra Paget, Russ Tamblyn, Lloyd Nolan, the character WOODFOOT, played by the actor LLOYD NOLAN, sings a song accompanying himself with a little accordion. As the musical theme of this song is often recurring in western films, especially those directed by John Ford (THE SEARCHERS, for example), I suppose that theme to be a popular, country music of Old West, or something like that.

    Well, I’d like to have informations about that song and that musical theme and, possibly, to have the lyrics.
    Besides, if that song should be on YouTube, I’d like to receive the related link.
    You are my last hope, after that I will have to renounce to get this further acquaintance of mine on western fims and on history of West.
    I thank you so much for what you will do for me.
    Best greetings and regards.

    DARIO FERRARO

     
    • Colin

      September 13, 2012 at 11:48 am

      Hello Dario. I think the song you’re referring to is Sweet Betsy from Pike.
      Search for that on YouTube and it should bring up a number of recordings.
      And let me know if that’s the one!

       
      • dario

        September 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm

        Hello COLIN ! hello from DARIO, thank you so much for your reply, I have searched for the song you indicated to me on YouTube, I found it, OK, it is a very nice song, I heard it sung by my idol Johnny Cash, unfortunately it was not the song I was searching for. Actually, actor Lloyd Nolan/Woodfoot, in the film THE LAST HUNT, sings two songs, one of them could be the one you indicated to me, but the one I am searching for is surely the other one. If you have the film THE SEARCHERS in your mind (for me, the best western film of all times, seen some hundreds of time), just in the opening scene of the film there is this musical theme, and, then, in the scene just before the arrival of Ethan Edwards/Martin Pawley to the mexican cantina, it is a scene of the two actors riding in front a raving sunset ………….
        COLIN, now that I have established a personal contact with you, I do hope you will help in my research up to the end of it.
        And, if ever you would like to have informations about the classic italian music (I am a crazy lover of liric operas, which are a tipical made in Italy product) I will be happy to return your kindness to you.
        Best regard and grretings.
        DARIO

         
        • Colin

          September 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm

          Hmmm, let’s try again.
          The song Charlie is my Darling is also featured in The Last Hunt, pretty sure Lloyd Nolan plays it but I don’t have the DVD to hand to check.

          I’m a bit confused on The Searchers though. The opening of the movie piece by Steiner seems to borrow from a few folk tunes – I always thought there was a bit of I’ll Take You Home, Kathleen in there, but I wouldn’t like to swear to that.
          The other scene you mention is this, I think.

          That has Ken Curtis singing Skip to My Lou as it blends into the arrival at the cantina.

           
          • dario

            September 13, 2012 at 2:19 pm

            COLIN, you are right and I was wrong. The scene of THE SEARCHERS before-coming the arrival to the mexican cantina belongs to SKIP TO MY LOU also sung by Judy Garland in a film I don’t remember the title and that I have on a disc of country songs, the music theme of the introducing scene of the same film is the one I am searching for, that music theme is the same of the song sung by Woodfoot/Lloyd Nolan in the film THE LAST HUNT. I have this film on VHS, I could look at it until the scene where Woodfoot sings the song, but, then, I am not sure to understand the words, ………..
            may be they are slang words pronounced in a dialect english ……….. I think to remeber, but I am not sure, to have understood that he sings : “…… a dawn ……”
            Thank you for you patience, I go on relying on you ……………..
            DARIO

             
            • Colin

              September 13, 2012 at 2:57 pm

              Dario, if it’s not one of the two songs I mentioned then I’m stuck. As I said, I don’t have the DVD to hand to go through and check.
              Of course, someone else reading may have some ideas…

               
  8. Blake Lucas

    September 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    I’m sure I know what song Dario is trying to identify. It is “Lorena” and is a prominent musical theme in both THE SEARCHERS and THE LAST HUNT. In THE SEARCHERS, it has about equal play through the film with theme music of the title song; Max Steiner wrote neither but beautifully integrated both into the score. I assume “Lorena” was chosen by Brooks but absolutely certain it was chosen by John Ford for his film–he always chose the songs he wanted. The song, with its lovely, plaintive melody is, I believe, a Civil War song or dating to that period.

    In THE SEARCHERS, it has special resonance to the Ethan/Martha relationship, one of the deeper elements of the whole film to the very end (it is heard in the final homecoming scene before return of the title song takes the film out in the doorway shot), even though Martha dies early in the movie. I’m less certain about why it was chosen for THE LAST HUNT but does suit the film’s mournfulness and suppressed romantic tone, which so beautifully crystallize in a final haunting image of Charlie (which of course no one her wants to reveal) and the quietly moving and hard won end of Sandy’s spiritual journey, which finds him at peace. Much, I would argue, like Ethan as THE SEARCHERS ends, even if he is alone. But Ethan calls for an even more complex reading than either Sandy or Charlie because, I would argue, he is for most of the film a character who synthesizes qualities in both characters in THE LAST HUNT.

     
    • Colin

      September 13, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      Bravo Blake! Lorena is certainly the song from The Searchers. Here’s a clip featuring Waylon Jennings singing it:

      It’s a highly appropriate piece for The Searchers – it’s mournful for sure but there is a touching romanticism there too, a restful quality or at least the promise of restfulness that the film’s characters strive for.

       
    • dario

      September 14, 2012 at 7:18 am

      Hello LUCAS BLAKE, I am DARIO, the “searcher” of the song sung by Woodfoot/Lloyd Nolan in the film THE LAST HUNT
      LUCAS ……. YOU HIT THE BULL’S EYE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      LORENA is the song I have listened since when I was a boy and which I have been searching for for years and years.
      I thank you so much for your kindness and for your authority.
      I have listened to LORENA on YouTube with a link COLIN sent me, performed by Wylon (?) and by the “divine” “man in black” Johnny Cash …………. my english comprehension is not as good as my english writing, but I guess if the song sung by Woodfoot/Lloyd Nolan may have changed words in comparison with the official version sung by Johnny Cash and others.
      May it be … ???
      Anyway, I am happy to have got the goal of my research, I thank you so much.
      DARIO FERRARO
      (from Florence, Italy)

       
      • Colin

        September 14, 2012 at 8:24 am

        There you go Blake – another satisfied customer!

        Anyway, Dario’s query piqued my interest further and a bit of digging revealed that there’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to the song. For anyone interested, or seeking a bit of background info, it can be accessed here.

         
        • Blake Lucas

          September 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm

          Thanks for linking that. Knew the song but certainly not the full lyrics by heart. It was nice to confirm my my memory it was a song with Civil War associations.

          I observe they noted its use in the two Ford films but missed it in THE LAST HUNT.

           
      • Blake Lucas

        September 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm

        My pleasure, Dario. Glad to help. I too love the song. And both the films.

        A lot of people understandably get this wrong but Blake is my first name and Lucas is my last name
        (for future reference).

        And Colin, thanks again for an excellent piece that prompted such a good discussion. I’m sure it will encourage others to seek out the movie. Even one other person appreciating a movie this good means so much.

         
        • Colin

          September 14, 2012 at 6:02 pm

          Even one other person appreciating a movie this good means so much.

          Can’t argue with that Blake.

           
        • dario

          September 15, 2012 at 7:42 am

          Hello my friend BLAKE, that’s DARIO again, I’ve got a new challange for you, if you will be able to accept and to win it, I will consider you a real living western films encyclopedia.
          This time the film is THE BIG SKY 1952 by Howard Hawks, a film which – in a way – signed my life, as when I saw it the first time I was about 10 y.o., I fell in love with that splendid indian princess TEALEYE/ELIZABETH THREATT and still I am. It was a real pity, a real shame that she didin’t want to act again after that film, where she was so good and so beautiful.
          My wish is to know title, lyrics, informations about the franch song, sung in french language, that a member of the boat Mandan crew sings in the camp, during the scenes just before the arrival into the film story of POOR DEVIL/HANK WARDEN (great actor).
          I suppose this question of mine to be even harder, even more difficult than the one on THE LAST HUNT, as here the matter is about french culture and not american culture ……….. I am curious to check out what you are able to do, my confidence in you is total.
          By the way, if you want, you can mail me directly to my address : anuenkidu at alice point it
          Best regards and, again, thank you for your kindness
          DARIO

           
          • Blake Lucas

            September 15, 2012 at 6:11 pm

            I wish I did know the French song, Dario. It’s not as if I don’t know the movie–it is another favorite of mine and have seen many times over the years. A sublime Western, I believe–even better in the original 140 minute version that we can now see, with Arthur Hunnicut’s character especially rounded out in late film revelation about the Indian girl he left. I react to Elizabeth Threatt the same way you do, but maybe her just being in the one film in this role intensifies our reaction to her.

             
            • dario

              September 16, 2012 at 7:19 am

              Ciao BLAKE, thank you so much for your answer. No matter if you can’t help me about the french song, my interest about it was quite secondary in comparison with the song of THE LAST HUNT/LORENA, and now I am so happy to have got it, every day I listen to it more and more times, in the rendition of “the man in black” Johnny Cash.
              May be you known another rendition of LORENA even better than the one of Johnny Cash … ??? ( I doubt …), if so and if it should be on YouTube, would you be so kind to indicate it to me … ???
              About THE BIG SKY ……… you wrote of an original 140 minutes version, that I never saw in the italian version ………. please, again, would you be so kind to let me get it … ??? I do not know where to find it, as now, in Italy, Emule has been almost totally obscured. No matter if it is a version in english language, I will be able to understand only about 30% of what actors pronounce, but it is no matter to me, as I do know the film scene by scene and I will be able to put the right words, remembering the italian version, on actors’ mouth.
              I hope to read from you soon, thank you.
              DARIO

               
              • Colin

                September 16, 2012 at 8:59 am

                As it stands, the full version of The Big Sky is not commercially available. I believe that TCM in the US has broadcast the long version with the missing footage, sourced from a 16mm print, inserted.

                 
              • dario

                September 16, 2012 at 9:55 am

                BLAKE, I do hope you will not consider me too boring, but, what you wrote to me from I suppose you have seen the full 140′ version of THE BIG SKY, and possibly, you have a copy of it.
                Would you be so kind, if it should be in your possibility, to make a copy of the film on DVD and to send it to me … ??? I will meet any expenses in advance
                Let me Know, thank you.
                p.s. – Otherwise, could you indicate to me where and how to buy it … ???

                 
                • Blake Lucas

                  September 16, 2012 at 4:09 pm

                  Dario, Colin is right that TCM broadcast it but I didn’t record it. I have seen the restored 140 version projected twice theatrically, one at Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum and the other at American Cinematheque–a 35 print with the missing footage source from 16 as Colin says. I believe this is now the version and hopefully will be DVD available at some point. I believe it was cut to what we’ve always seen early on in first engagements before wide release, but as I recall Todd McCarthy’s Hawks biography has the specifics. The version we always saw was great as it was, and the essentials of the film are all there, but it is even richer in the longer version and hope you get to see it.

                   
  9. Blake Lucas

    September 13, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Only don’t remember for sure that Woodfoot sings “Lorena” though my memory is he does. As I said upthread, I’m keen to get back to the movie based on this discussion. As much as I have seen it over the years, it has been quite awhile now

     
    • Colin

      September 13, 2012 at 7:55 pm

      Blake, if this short article of mine, and the discussion it’s generated, does nothing else but send a few people back to the movie, or maybe encourage others to give it a go then I’d be very satisfied.

       
  10. Rod Croft

    September 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Colin,
    your article has certainly engendered an avalanche of interesting comment on a film that had been, whether rightly or wrongly, largely forgotten. It occurred to me at the time of the film’s release that Robert Taylor in the role of Charlie Gilson was a challenging piece of casting.

    Taylor, as the “heavy” had been cast against type, and this, in itself, was a gamble. One has only to look the disappointing results achieved by 20th Century Fox when Tyrone Power, at his own insistance, had been cast against type in “Nightmare Alley”.

    Adding to the minuses, the “brutal” killing of the buffalo scenes did not go down to well with a generation less accepting of violence than today”s society. Coupled with Taylor’s change of image, it is a wonder that “The Last Hunt” made a profit for M.G.M. despite the quality of the acting and story.

     
    • Colin

      September 14, 2012 at 8:34 am

      Hi Rod. Yes, it’s quite a brave piece of filmmaking considering the themes and the casting. It’s often easy to forget how contemporary attitudes and expectations could be challenged when looking back at something over 50 years later.

      Taylor did seem keen to push his career in this direction though – his role in Rogue Cop, from a few years earlier, appears to back that up.

       
  11. billyriel1971

    September 15, 2012 at 2:12 am

    Hi Colin…thanks for sharing your review and the subject matter of the film (i.e. the place of the bison on the North American continent, the traditional relationship between Indigenous groups and this majestic animal). For those interested, I did a review of the documentary, Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison, which was screened on PBS earlier this year. This powerful film traces the history of the bison to the present-day and examines our current relationship with what is often called the “buffalo”.

    Here is a link for those interested: http://westernsreboot.com/2012/05/01/reflections-on-facing-the-storm-a-place-for-the-bison-in-our-lives/

    Thanks again for the review.
    Take care,
    Chad
    http://www.westernsreboot.com

     
    • Colin

      September 15, 2012 at 8:04 am

      Hi Chad. Firstly, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Secondly, I want to say sorry. When I was writing this thing I had it in my head to link to your piece; I don’t know how it slipped my mind, but it did.

      Anyway, I’ll take the opportunity now to add that it’s worth hitting the link and having a look at Chad’s article.

       
  12. billyriel1971

    September 15, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Thanks for the note, Colin, and no worries….I appreciate the comment and endorsement of the link!

    Take care,
    Chad
    http://www.westernsreboot.com

     
  13. vinnieh

    September 15, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Your excellent review has convinced me to give this one a watch.

     
    • Colin

      September 15, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      Cool! It’s a very rewarding film and unlikely to prove disappointing.

       
  14. muriel

    September 19, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Speaking of Tamblyn as a red headed half-breed. It was accurate casting – that’s how the character was described in the book. Seems a bit odd in technicolor though – Tamblyn is more gingery and one visualizes such a mix as “auburn”.

     
    • Colin

      September 19, 2012 at 6:32 pm

      Hi Muriel. Yes, Randy’s link to his review of the book shows that Tamblyn’s character was indeed red haired in the novel. I ordered a copy of the book but it’s still in transit so I haven’t had a chance to peruse it yet. Looking forward to doing so though.

       
  15. Jim Beaver

    November 30, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Lorena is also used extensively by Ford in THE HORSE SOLDIERS.

     
    • Colin

      November 30, 2012 at 8:50 am

      True, Ford was very keen on weaving old folk melodies and songs into his movies whenever possible.

       

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