Director: Peter Hunt
Starring: Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Carl Weathers, Andrew Stevens, Angie Dickinson, Ed Lauter
Music: Jerrold Immel
Editors: Allan Jacobs & John F. Burnett
Director of Photography: James Devis
Writers: Michael Crais, Robert Victor
Producers: Albert S. Ruddy, Raymond Chow
Death Hunt is allegedly based on a true story. The film opens in Yukon Territory in November 1931, and man, it looks imposing and icy cold – it looks dangerous! But one man who seems to be in his element in this hostile environment is Albert Johnson (Charles Bronson). We meet him as he is riding down from the mountains on his way home. As he passes through a settlement a vicious dog fight is taking place with a crowd of hardened mountain men circled round. The fight is in its final stages, and one of the dogs is owned by this fella called Hazel (Ed Lauter), and the beast is copping a hiding. It is covered in blood and can barely defend itself. The fight should be called off, but Hazel is too proud to give up – even if it costs the dog his life. Finally the fight is stopped. Hazel is angered and embarrassed, and pulls a knife, preparing to take out his frustrations on the dog. That’s when Johnson wades in. He knocks Hazel to the ground and picks up the wounded animal. Hazel is not happy that a stranger has intervened. Once again he has lost face with his peers. Johnson throws one hundred dollars at Hazel for the half dead dog. Still angered and petulant, Hazel demands more money. Johnson throws another bill at him, and then rides off with the dog on a stretcher.
Of course, Hazel doesn’t leave it there. First he approaches the local Mountie, Edgar Millen (Lee Marvin), demanding justice, claiming that Johnson forced him to give up the dog, so it was theft. Millen knows the type of guy Hazel is, and ignores the complaint. So Hazel takes matters into his own hands. With a posse of men, he rides out to Johnson’s lodge intent to kill him.
One of Hazel’s posse shoots the dog, and in anger, Johnson shoots the shooter down. Now Hazel runs back to Millen demanding action, as Johnson is no longer just a thief, but a murderer. Millen understands that the killing may have been self-defense, or Johnson was simply pushed to it – but the law is the law, and Millen sets off to reluctantly do his duty.
Millen, and a posse (mostly Hazel’s men) go to Johnson’s lodge. Millen tries to bring Johnson peacefully, but Johnson refuses. He dosen’t believe he has done anything wrong. When one of Hazel’s dupes opens fire during the negotiation, it becomes one big gun fight. With the numbers stacked against Johnson, it would appear he doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.
One of the more interesting aspects of Death Hunt is the changing relationship between the two main antagonists. At the beginning of the film, Johnson is the good guy who is being treated wrong. However, when he refuses to go with Millen and have the matter sorted out – and inadvertently turns the investigation into a seige – he becomes the bad guy. As for Millen, he too starts out as the good guy but as he allows himself to be coerced into hunting down Johnson, even though he knows he is innocent, he becomes a bad guy. But even though they have both become bad in their way, you can still sympathise with their characters, because it is the people around them that have turned them bad. In their natural state, for want of a better expression, both of them are good men.
Please correct me if I am wrong, but is Edgar Millen Lee Marvin’s last great film role? Don’t you dare say Delta Force! Of course, he did work after this, but his age was really catching up with him and he didn’t seem to choose (or was offered) roles that weren’t age-appropriate. He was still playing the same hard living character as he had through the 60s and 70s as if time had stood still. Unfortunately it hadn’t, and some of his later roles are just hard to watch, such as The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission.
Death Hunt is one of my childhood favourites. I watched it many times on video, and still enjoy watching repeat viewings now. It is interesting to compare it to the film First Blood with which this film shares many common themes, and shares more than one or two similar scenes.
As a final bit of trivia, Death Hunt was directed by Peter Hunt, who directed the Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – and who would go on to direct Bronson again in the Secret Service thriller, Assassination.
If you have never seen Death Hunt, it is well worth a look.