Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Hunted (1948) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

One of my all-time favorite discoveries at the annual Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood was THE HUNTED (1948), a spellbinding romantic noir.

I was thrilled when I learned that the Warner Archive had released this Allied Artists film on DVD. I've wondered if I would love the film as much on repeat viewings as I did the first time I saw it in 2011, and the answer is decidedly yes.

THE HUNTED stars the unexpected romantic team of Preston Foster and Belita, who share a crackling passion and longing for one another despite mutual mistrust. Their relationship, combined with iconic noir imagery (trenchcoats and fedoras never looked better) and the unusual inclusion of an ice skating sequence, makes THE HUNTED a top-flight "B" noir. In fact, I'd simply call it a top-flight noir, period. I love this movie.

Foster plays cop Johnny Saxon, who trails newly released parolee Laura Mead (Belita), back in town after a four-year stint in jail. Johnny had sent Laura to jail as an accessory in a diamond heist, despite her protestations of innocence, but he's never been able to shake his deep feelings for her.

It's a dark and stormy night, and Johnny and Laura both end up in his apartment, where they discuss their past history in a deeply felt scene which not only provides exposition, it makes clear they both still love one another. Now that Laura's done her time, will she and Johnny be able to find their way to happiness? Or is she a femme fatale who's going to follow through on the pledge she once made to kill him?

The film is both swooningly romantic -- I've never looked at Preston Foster the same way since -- and the ultimate in noir, with its shadows and a certain fatalism; Johnny knows he's either going to happily love Laura or be killed by her, but he's powerless to stop whatever's going to happen.

The skating sequence works extremely well in the context of the film. Belita, a former Olympic skater, is very talented and beautiful to watch, and the movie wisely filmed her routine with a harsh noir look, skating alone in a spotlight. The juxtaposition of her elegance with the gritty background of the hockey rink is very effective, and the routine not only fits, it helps to distinguish the movie as something a little bit different. Belita had actually starred in an earlier film noir, SUSPENSE (1946), which is likewise available from the Warner Archive.

George Chandler has a nice role as Johnny's bartender confidante. The cast also includes Frank Ferguson, Larry Smith, Edna Turner, and Russell Hicks. And just when you think the movie can't get any better, here comes noir star Charles McGraw as a police detective.

This 88-minute film was directed by Jack Bernhard (DECOY) and evocatively shot by Harry Neumann. The screenplay is by Steve Fisher, who wrote the novel which inspired I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941).

THE HUNTED was also recently reviewed by Matt Hinrichs at DVD Talk ("excellent, naturalistic performances") and KC at A Classic Movie Blog ("moody, romantic"). I loved KC's comment "I had to go back and check it out again, as if I couldn't believe what I saw." She also appreciated Preston Foster, calling him "a compelling romantic" and delightfully concluding "You get the feeling he's really good to his mother."

Please visit my 2011 Noir City review for more thoughts on this film and additional links, including a link to a biographical piece on Belita.

I wrote in 2011, "My only regret regarding this movie is that I loved it so much and it might be very, very difficult to ever see it again, especially in such pristine condition." I'm very grateful to the Warner Archive for putting that worry to rest with the release of this lovely DVD.

THE HUNTED is most highly recommended.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger KC said...

Thanks for the hat tip Laura.Sheesh, you're making me blush! Loved your take on this film. It was such a treat.

6:12 PM  

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