The Hunters (1958)
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Robert Mitchum portrays the big hunter, the 'Iceman.' Maj. Cleve Saville was like death: no feelings, no nerves, no fear In Japan, on his way to his first posting in Korea, he meets Lt. Carl Abbott (Lee Philips), a young pilot who thinks he is a bad flier Too much booze was the sign With 30 missions Abbott failed to get any enemy planes His wife Chris (May Britt) doesn't know what to do with him She asks Maj. Saville to look out for him and help him Saville finds himself falling in love with her, with some response from her
Filling out the story when they finally reach Korea are the first of the jet pilots, Col. Dutch Emil (Richard Egan), and Lt. Ed Pell (Robert Wagner), a rude young guy with big cigars in his face, considered as a 'little stinker who can get MiGs.' Their common enemy is the Chinese ace Casey Jones (Leon Lontoc). His plane has the numbers 7-11 on his fuselage
The MiGs are based in Red China, across the Yalu River
The film focuses on electrifying flight sequences that hold the attention of the viewing audience, and the cast delivers performances that do carry the story. This film has been finally released in DVD by 20th Century Fox, and I have replaced my taped VHS version with the DVD. It's very watchable, and the flying sequences still hold their own. 7/10, but a strong entry in this genre.
The final 1/3 of the film is just stupid--which is amazing, as the film had been very realistic and believable up until then. However, in a dopey sequence, one fighter pilot is shot down behind enemy lines and his commander deliberately crashes his F-86 fighter in order to try to rescue this downed pilot (it's just them versus the combined North Korean and Chinese armies)!! This is insane to say the least and making such a belly landing was NOT easy like it looked in the film. Then, when a 3rd American fighter plane was shot down in this same sequence when it was making very low strafing runs (just to help save one pilot--and not a very good one at that!), I groaned with annoyance. Then, these 3 pilots trek across North Korea just as easy as can be!! Duh, this section of the film was just terrible and should earn a 2--at best.
Overall, I'd give the film a 6. It could have been so much better and I was saddened that Robert Mitchum agreed to be in such a film!
By the way, since I am a huge plane buff, here are some final technical comments. In one scene, an F-86 fighter plane is landing. Instead of showing an F-86 blowing up on landing, the plane instantly becomes an F-100--an entirely different plane. This is very sloppy and very noticeable. Did the film makers think the audience was THAT stupid?! However, the film makers using F-84s instead of Russian Mig-15 fighters is more forgivable--it isn't like Hollywood had modern Russian fighter planes sitting around waiting to be used in films!
This is one of two war films Mitchum made for Dick Powell. The other one, the submariner classic THE ENEMY BELOW, has been widely available for the last 10 years at least. I don't understand why the long delay in releasing THE HUNTERS... but finally, the wait is over.
The Korean War has long been a forgotten conflict in American history, and the air war there has been almost completely ignored by Hollywood.
That's a shame. Fighter combat in Korea marked a significant transition period in air warfare.
The Korean War fighter pilots were the last of the old Stick and Rudder fliers. They were the last generation of knights of the sky who fought with gallantry and a respect for the skills and courage of their opponents. Even tho they were officially enemies, wearing the uniforms of different nations, the unspoken truth was that every pilot was the brother of everyone else who flew. In common they'd shared the thrill of flight, and the dangers that came along with it. They might fight to the death in the skies, but these warriors understood and respected each other.
After Korea, the airplanes became technologically advanced and ended the old ways of thinking. It was no longer a man to man confrontation; air combat became a matter of triggering a missile that killed your enemy 30 miles away, and you often never even saw your foe or his airplane. Air warfare became impersonal and detached.
In Korea, combat flying was still a very personal matter. The PILOT still flew, and FOUGHT, the AIRPLANE. After that, speeds increased and things in combat happened so quickly that men couldn't control them directly anymore... the old piloting skills were replaced by electronics, and the pilot became a mere backup system in case a fuse blew, and in reality the AIRPLANE flew the PILOT. He was just a piece of hardware... the Nut that held the stick and throttle!
There's a big difference between the men in THE HUNTERS and those in TOP GUN. I have my doubts that Maverick would have acquitted himself very well over Korea. Mitchum as Cleve Seville is a direct descendant of Flynn and Niven in THE DAWN PATROL, and Cruise in TOP GUN is a very different animal.
As far as the CD production is concerned... I'm surprised that they were able to find as good a print of the movie as they did for the DVD transfer. It appears to me that it's been digitally cleaned up; it was almost certainly computer processed to take care of color shift in the '50s vintage single strip Technicolor.
What was VERY surprising to me was the extra features. I was astonished that the teaser and trailer both feature a vocal theme song by Frankie Lane, the guy who did all those vocals for '50's westerns! You probably remember him best for his vocal on the theme of Mel Brooks' BLAZING SADDLES.
I always thought that the music for THE HUNTERS was badly overblown, but after hearing the ill conceived Frankie Lane theme song, I can now appreciate the film's score as VASTLY preferable... I like Lane, but THIS effort definitely STINKS, and invokes little more than shocked laughter.
Well, fellow airplane nuts, the waiting is over. GET YOUR COPY NOW of one of the most sought after aviation films ever made.
Now. For the non-historical: The "good guys'" airplanes are North American Aviation F-86 "Saber Jets". That "bad guys'" airplanes are Republic Aviation F-84F "Thunder Jets". This is perhaps the most jarring inaccuracy in the movie...but in 1958 we all understood that nobody with a herd of MiG-15s and MiG-17s was interested in helping make a movie.
It's on TV every once in a while. Catch it!
The enemy flies F-84's (not exactly Mig 15's) while the good guys fight with F-86's, but the action shots are good. Aviation art buffs will smile at the Kacee Jones "The Crapshooter" who has 7 & 11 dice painted on his aircraft nose.
If you like aviation movies, this is one to see.
You will recognize some other actors as well.
This 20th Century Fox Cinemascope production was director Dick Powell's follow up to the excellent 1957 war film, THE ENEMY BELOW. This one also stars Robert Mitchum in the lead role. This time however the action takes place in the air over Korea in 1952. Also in the cast are, Richard Egan, Lee Phillips, May Britt and Robert Wagner.
This one starts at an Air base in Japan. Personal are off loaded from the States, then, transferred to their units in South Korea. Mitchum plays a World War Two veteran pilot with the nickname, "Ice Man". He is one cool and deadly pilot. This will be his first action flying jets (F-86) in combat. Commanding his unit is another WW2 vet, Richard Egan. Also in the squadron is Lee Phillips, who has an over fondness for beverages of the alcohol variety. Staying in Japan is the pretty wife of Phillips, May Britt.
The men end up at a base in Korea and are assigned to fly patrols in "Mig Alley", an area just south of the border with Red China. This is where the various Red Air forces are trying to gain the upper hand. Each side is out to eliminate the other using ambush tactics and flying skill. At the moment, the Americans have the upper hand, but not without losses on their part. There are several Red pilots making a name for themselves, particularly one who goes by the handle, Casey Jones.
Of course Phillips' wife, May Britt and Mitchum are soon locking lips every time Mitchum is in Tokyo. But, as much as Mitchum would like to step up the action, he can see that Britt is still in love with Phillips. He makes it his mission to whip the drunk into a first rate pilot. Now enters hotshot jet jockey, Robert Wagner fresh from the States. The kid can fly, and after a rough start with Mitchum, is soon knocking Reds out of the sky at a fast rate.
While on a patrol over Mig Alley, there is a nasty round of combat between the Americans and the Reds. Phillips is shot up and takes to his chute. Mitchum gets some payback by finally getting the best of the Red Ace, Casey Jones. He then decides to see where Phillips had bailed out.
Mitchum spots Phillips hanging from a tree, and decides to crash land his Sabre nearby. He feels obligated to help Phillips. There is soon a squad of North Korean infantry closing in. Said infantry are shot up by Robert Wagner who is then shot down by ground fire.
Mitchum and Wagner are now hauling the badly wounded Phillips towards the United Nations lines. They tackle a couple of North Korean soldiers at a guard post and arm themselves with several burp guns. Then they run into a family of refugees also heading south. Another squad of North Korean types show and liquidate the civilians. Wagner and Mitch step up and pay the Red swine in kind.
Taking the dead civilians cart, they load up Phillips and continue south. They are soon grabbed up by a U.N. unit of Greeks and sent back for medical attention. Phillips is patched up and will be sent back to the States. Britt and Mitchum say their goodbyes as Britt thanks Mitch for saving her husband.
For the most part, the film works quite well with some nicely handled action sequences. The film however slows to a snail's pace every time Miss Britt is on screen. The love triangle bit is just not needed, or should have been trimmed by a good 15 minutes. Still, it is a great looking Cinemascope production with excellent color.
Powell does good work as the helmsman, while four time, Oscar nominated, Charles G Clarke, handles the cinematography duties.
May Britt was another of a string of Swedish actresses who were to be the next, Ingrid Bergman. The list would include, Marta Toren, Viveca Lindfors, Signe Hasso and Inger Stevens. None of them were.
Planes, Yes, And a Battle Between Two Wars
The provocatively titled The Hunters is mostly routine, patriotic stuff with some small twists of plot and motivation to keep it interesting. The general tone and the general outcome are givens. There are two halves to the movie. The air-to-air combat, which is exciting if you like that kind of action, and well filmed, and a human plot which lopes along with little consequence. This human half is is filmed so well, you can watch it all and soak up the sets and framing and the gently moving camera scene after scene. It's a good example of a CinemaScope production using the wide wide look, edge to edge.
The most beautiful sections are set in civilian Japan, which is an interesting emphasis for a Korean War movie. There are some pretty night shots that have great atmosphere, filled more with charcoal colors than inky black shadows. The brighter interior sets are really stunning in their horizontal sweep and photographed with a kind of professionalism that's easy to take for granted--conservative, beautiful camera-work. Add a little moment here and there, like the longing in the woman's look after she moves to the door 14 minutes in, and you have a hint of missed opportunity. And I don't just mean Mitchum's. I know other people will like the dogfights and military stuff, and if you do, check this out. It's not at all corny or clumsy, but it all looks too much same to me, even if I worry a little about who will get shot down next. A little. Notice how the movie gets far more compelling in the last half hour of fighting on the ground, looking more like WWII. And still filmed beautifully.
Significance? Actually, yes. One serious theme throughout is weighing the small Korean Conflict against World War II. Mitchum, a grave, no-nonsense veteran from the earlier war, is not only older and more experienced, he has the credentials of the real thing. He's fighting in Korea because it's the only war going on, and he's a soldier. He has the nickname the Ice Man, but the name feels patched on so the movie can show he really has a heart underneath his steely reserve. It's a paradigm for a great kind of man, I think, and an attractive one even when oversimplified. By contrast, the young pilots are casual and wisecracking, lacking discipline and any sense of commitment, mostly because their war doesn't demand it. One of them (played by Robert Wagner) is so cocky we know he's covering his cowardice. Another is an alcoholic, and his beautiful, lonely wife gets a little quality time with Mitchum, who isn't above sneaking something past one of his young colleagues (she's the little known Swedish actress, May Britt, who later married Sammy Davis, Jr.).
Anyway, Mitchum makes good in the end. They all do, those still alive.
Underlying all this is the way the Korean War in its dubiousness made these men less substantial, somehow, compared to the men formed by WWII. It's a kind of Generation X syndrome, and it feels real, these Korean War Americans driven mostly by indifference, ultimately distorted by the weird fact that they needed something bigger and more meaningful to react to. It's only after some thinking about it do you realize that Mitchum's strength of character might not be a result of WWII, after all, but of some innate sense of being a fighter. He's not looking for a cause, but for a war. In this movie, he gets a little of both.
I strongly recommend it.
Now, if it can just be made available on DVD and VHS.
Even sexier than the redoubtable May Britt, the F-86 is given great coverage and detail in what is generally a good war film. The F-86 arrived just in time to save the U.S. Air Force and Naval Air Force from the Mig 15 and 17, probably the most dangerous aircraft faced by the U.S. up to that time.
The Migs were chewing up the old straight wing fighters the Navy and Air Force were using, and taking a huge, and strangely under-reported toll on the B-29s that were bombing North Korea. Their losses were so bad that the missions were ended until a viable U.S. jet could be mounted against the Mig. The F-86 was that jet.
I was amazed at the number of jet fighters arrayed in the skies above California for the battle sequences. A large contingent of Republic F-84Fs were painted green and sported the red star of the North Korean Air Force. Anybody who knew airplanes saw this inaccuracy, but it did little to detract from the generally very good combat scenes. That is the prime advantage of CGI, today.....they can create a squadron of Mig 15s for a fraction of the cost to attempt to field analog substitutes.
The only problem with CGI is the movement of the CGI generated airplanes---it is too stiff, and the turns they show these planes making, especially the prop fighters created in Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor", the turns and the speeds are way too steep and fast, and have no liquidity of actual movement. Thus the analog dogfights in "The Hunters" were mesmerizing, and quite beautiful.
"The Hunters" is a fine piece of aviation history, of a little-known and understood war. It was the first all jet war of our time.....fast and very deadly. I continue to wonder, as Fredric March does at the end of a better Korean War movie, "The Bridges at Toko-Ri", ....Where do we get such men....?"
The Hunters is different because it could stand alone, just as a love story. Yet the underlying plot, the story of a career flying ace, is strong and believable. Cleve Saville is the guy with "The right stuff". He's not a braggart. Others (like COL Imil) have achieved rank and/or status, but know Saville is the real thing. Saville proves it.
What got me was Mitchum's understanding of his role. Whenever MAJ. Saville sees jets flying overhead, he stops whatever he's doing to watch. A true flyer. SPOILER: This happens in the opening sequence and the end scene when the love interest May Britt is telling him goodbye- he is distracted by jets overhead and ignores her last parting gestures.
SPOILER: This movie has been panned when compared to the book, but personally I found the book plodding, predictable and disappointing. The movie did a role reversal between MAJ Saville and LT Abbott. Plus it added the character of LT Ed Pell, who was based on a real hot shot LT who achieved "ace" status quickly because he had been trained on the newest USAF computer/radar gun sight just prior to deploying to Korea, NOT because he cut in on targets or risked other pilots' lives. Also, the Chinese pilot "Casey Jones" was based on a real Russian advisor pilot who was known by our side as "The Professor".
For pre-computer special effects days, the aerial sequences were believable (the "test your guns" sequence WAS real) and the Far Eastern scenery, uniforms and a/c markings accurate. And unlike other Korean War films where F-86s were painted with red stars and passed off as MiGs, The Hunters used gray toned F-84Fs, which, with their high horizontal stabilizers and straight chopped nose inlets, were acceptable MiG-15 substitutes.
A good plot, great aerial footage and ground combat sequences all add up to a first rate war flick. Why 20th Century Fox keeps this film out of circulation is a mystery to me.
We're faced with a usual theme of one guy falling for another guy's girl, in this case a married girl, during war.
Lee Philips really stole the acting here. Remember him as the soft-spoken principal in "Peyton Place?" He had all the answers in that film and his persona changes drastically here as an alcoholic pilot, unsure of himself and whose wife soon lands in the hands of Robert Mitchum.
Robert Wagner co-stars as a young cocky pilot whose resolve is soon tested.
The film takes off when all 3 land in a North Korean infested place as Mitchum and Wagner take care of a badly wounded Philips.
The film shows the brutality of the Communists when a poor oriental farming family are machine gunned for hiding the 3 guys.
In typical Hollywood fashion, the film shows dedication, duty and resolve of our fighting men and that marriage is still a sacred institution.
This was the second of two films that Dick Powell directed starring Mitchum and the last big screen project Powell was ever involved in behind the camera. Mitchum, newly assigned to Korea and just checked out on the new jet fighters is assigned a squad with two big problems in it. The first is Lee Phillips who is drinking heavily and has brought his wife over to Japan where the squadron is based. The other problem is Robert Wagner, a would be Tom Cruise of his day with a smart mouth and a bad attitude.
Bathsheba comes in the form of May Britt who is Phillips's wife and Mitchum falls hard for her. They call him the Ice Man because combat is just a game to him, but he's anything but ice around the curvaceous Britt.
The troubles start when all three are downed over North Korea and have to get back to the South in which a wounded Phillips is a handicap. What happens to the trio making it back to their lines is what you see the film to find out.
In Lee Server's book on Robert Mitchum it mentions that Mitchum originally signed on because he thought the film would be shot in the Orient and he would get a free trip there. Once signed sad to say the whole thing was shot stateside.
The best thing about The Hunters are the aerial action sequences which aviation buffs should really like. The human performers are definitely outshone and outflown by the jet planes.
By not outstaying its welcome, The Hunters is the perfect film for genre fans who find themselves stuck in the house on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Though Mitchum of course oozes his usual screen presence here, he is playing second fiddle to the F-86 Sabres that are swishing about the bright blue sky, dog fighting with the Migs (well F-84 Thunders cunningly disguised as Migs) and thus giving the picture the necessary action quotient. Films set in the Korean War are few and far between, so to at least have a film like The Hunters to view when in the mood is surely a really good thing. 6/10
I recommend it only to war planes lovers otherwise stay away. Vote therefore is 5/10.
Dive" of 1943 only this time the action takes place in the air and not under the sea. Mitchum is the squadron leader Seville who takes on Lee Phillips as his
wingman and then is given the loud mouthed smooth talking Robert Wagner as
the sharp shooter who appears to have a perfect record in the air. I think this movie deserved three Academy Award Nominations in 1958. One for L.B.
Abbott's lavish special effects, another for Charles G. Clark's cinematography and another for Editing. This is a good one, don't miss it. ***1/2 out of ****
It has some of the very best aerial photography ever filmed - groundbreaking for its day. Beautiful shots of F-86 Sabres and F-84 Thunderjets (subbing for "Migs") in air-to-air combat.
As a war film, it is one of the best - but it is lessened by a rather trite "romantic triangle" subplot.
Nevertheless, it is well worth owning and watching for any aviation buff who wants an insight as to what the first true "jet war" was all about.
SYNOPSIS: Air Force major promises his girlfriend that he will look after her pilot husband in the Korean War.
NOTES: Filmed with the co-operation of the Department of Defense and the United States Air Force.
COMMENT: Nobody realized it at the time, but "The Hunters" was to be Dick Powell's final movie. He then went into the TV series "Dick Powell Theater" (that's really stepping from the ultra-big screen to the ultra small). He died of cancer in his Hollywood home on the night of 2 January 1963. He was 58.
One can forgive a silly, trite, conventional, Z-grade, dime-a-dozen story like "The Hunters" when at least it plays true to the viewer and doesn't raise expectations and issues which it hasn't the slightest intention of pursuing. This is the sort of cop-out script that wastes the talents of Bob Mitchum and May Britt here. If the story was just meant to serve as a peg on which to hang some high- flying action, why is there so much story and comparatively so little action? The only person to emerge with any credit from this film is surprisingly enough Robert Wagner who is reasonably effective in a standard war pictures role -- the one about the guy whose lack of team spirit causes... but who...
Mitchum and Britt are wasted. This rubbish is right about the level of Richard Egan who is as ridiculous as the script here. Powell's direction is thoroughly routine on the ground. Admittedly there is some excitement in the aerial combat scenes -- but this is mainly thanks to CinemaScope.