One of the distinct pleasures of scouring through the Warner Archive Collection is discovering its extensive library of forgotten and overlooked films, and thankfully they have brought much needed spotlight to “Cry of the Hunted.” Though director Joseph H. Lewis is best known for the 1949 film noir classic “Gun Crazy,” “Cry of the Hunted” reaches similar cinematic heights.
“Cry of the Hunted” centers on Tunner (Barry Sullivan), a dutiful police lieutenant whose biggest challenge is Jory (Vittorio Gassman), a prisoner who just won’t spill the beans and rat out his fellow accomplices. When Jory escapes Los Angeles and travels to the Louisiana Bayou, Tunner and his opportunistic partner Goodwin (William Conrad) are determined to get their man – even if it means wading their city slicker shoes through the murky swamps!!
Below are five reasons why “Cry of the Hunted” is a total standout:
Barry Sullivan and Polly Bergen Have Electric Chemistry
The film may be about two cops tracking down a fugitive in the Bayou, but a good enough portion of its 79 minutes is devoted to Tunner’s relationship with his wife Janet (Polly Bergen). Whether it’s through her singing or various diverse career in film and television, Bergen has always been known for her innate flair and moxie, and that shines through in “Cry of the Hunted.” Tunner and Janet are a happily married couple who love being sarcastic and flirty with one another, and coupled with screenwriter Jack Leonard’s crackerjack dialogue, the “domestic” scenes between the couple gives the narrative a surprising depth. Most crime driven dramas use such scenes as filler before the story jumps into the next action sequences, but there’s no wasted moments in “Cry of the Hunted,” and if Tunner and Janet had their own romantic comedy (My moniker suggestion is “I Remember The Tunners”), I’d be first in line.
Joseph H. Lewis Is A First Rate Visualist
Whether it’s the use of tracking shots, close ups, or expressive lighting, director Joseph H. Lewis was adept at the cinematic language, and that fluency is infused in “Cry of the Hunted.” While Jack Leonard delivered a script filled with memorable one-liners and an intriguing story structure (the movie’s a prison drama turned survivalist and existential bayou adventure), Lewis fills the movie with a ton of memorable and beautiful images.
For example, a scene in the local sheriff’s office doesn’t need to be visually enticing, and many directors would have simply shot the sequence in an unimaginative, closed off space with a bunch of two shots and the obligatory close-up. In Lewis’ hands, the entire frame is eye catching, as we see people in the far distance from the sheriff’s window. It’s a minor detail, but it’s these creative brush strokes which elevates “Cry of the Hunted” from its B-movie status.
The more noticeable sequences of the movie, which includes two gripping fights between Gassman and Sullivan (one in a claustrophobic jail cell, the other in the swamps), along with an absolutely crazy dream interlude, also provide further proof of Lewis’ masterful approach to composition.
Downtown L.A.’s Angels Flight Is Prominently Featured
I lived in Downtown L.A.’s Bunker Hill District for almost 10 years, and one of my fondest memories was taking Angels Flight down from my apartment to Grand Central Market. I craved these morning and lunchtime jaunts, and it’s sad to think this funicular will remain closed in the foreseeable future.
In the film, Jory uses Angels Flight as a way to elude Goodwin and another cop. It’s a pretty quick yet memorable action sequence, and any movie that shows Angels Flight in its full and original glory (it was actually rebuilt and moved a half block away in 1996) gets my cinematic vote.
Vittorio Gassman and Barry Sullivan Are The Perfect 1-2 Punch
Although Tunner and Jory should be adversaries thanks to their violent confrontations, they surprisinglyl have a deep affection for one another. Though bruised and battered after their exchanges, the pair calmly smoke a cigarette after all that roughhousing, and when their respective lives are about to flame out, the other person jumps in to save the day.
As Jory, Gassman also brings the sheer desperation of Jory to light, and Jory’s sheer introspective exasperation is balanced by Tunner’s vain, alpha-male obligation to do the right thing. There are moments when your allegiances may shift from one protagonist to the next (Jory, though a fugitive, really isn’t the villain in the piece), and eventually you’ll want to see them end up on the sunny side of the street.
Both actors bring a ton of depth into their roles, and along with a wonderfully devil may care performance from William Conrad and the aforementioned scene stealing work of Polly Bergen, “Cry of the Hunted” is blessed with memorable performances.
Jack Leonard’s Screenplay Is One For The Books
Screenwriter Jack Leonard died at the all too early age of 41, and during his short career he’s best known for “Narrow Margin” screenplay. “Cry of the Hunted” is just as ingenious, as the film takes a complete left turn during the second act.
What begins as a tougher than nails prison drama continues as a fugitive on the run actioner. The final chapter, as Tunner and Jory are both struggling for dear life on the bayou, is essentially a pulpy, B-movie ride into an enveloping heart of darkness. If swamp fever or crocodiles doesn’t kill them, maybe they’ll both meet a fiery end. They may live on opposite sides of the law, but both men are simply trying to do the right thing. With prison and bayou life taking their own respective tolls on the men (Tunner’s job is gradually tearing him apart), one wonders if tragedy is just around the corner. I didn’t predict the film’s satisfying ending and abrupt narrative time jump, but these unexpected turns are part of “Cry of the Hunted’s” allure.
Oh yeah – did I mention the absolutely surreal and out of left field dream sequence that’s wonderfully slapped in the middle of the film? These are just a few of the surprises in stores if you listen to . . . the Cry of the Hunted!
“Cry of the Hunted” is a Manufactured on Demand DVD. To order, go to wbshop.com or check out Amazon link below:
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