"Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin appearing in a film together? The machismo factor must be through the roof...but this isn't the first time these two legendary Hollywood tough guys appeared together. They previously worked together on The Dirty Dozen (1967) and the The Meanest Men in the West (1967), which was actually two episodes of the TV show The Virginian put together to make a feature length television movie. Directed by Peter Hunt (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Assassination), Death Hunt (1981) stars, as I mentioned, Charles Bronson (formerly known as Charles Buchinsky...I guess Buchinsky wasn't `Hollywood' enough, hence the change) and Lee Marvin (his original name), who was once on director Steven Spielberg's short list to play the character Quint in his 1975 film, Jaws (think how different that film would have been with Marvin instead of Robert Shaw). Also appearing is Andrew Stevens (Night Eyes, Munchie), who was once married to actress Kate Jackson of Charlie's Angels fame, Carl `Apollo' Weathers (Rocky), Ed Lauter, whom you may remember as Captain Knauer in the 1974 Burt Reynolds film The Longest Yard (which is currently being remade starring Adam Sandler, scheduled for released in '05, further proving creativity is dead in Hollywood), and Angie Dickinson (Big Bad Mama, Dressed to Kill), in a role originally offered to Joan Collins, but she turned it down due to a lack of bitchery within the character.
The film, based on a true story (but denounced by many Canadian historians for its' misrepresentation of the facts), takes place in the Yukon Territories in the year 1931. It centers on Albert Johnson (Bronson), a lone trapper who becomes a fugitive, pursued by the doggedly determined Sgt. Edgar Millen, RCMP (Marvin), essentially for a crime he didn't commit. After a run in with a group of less than savory individuals, lead by Hazel (Lauter), Johnson is accused of murder, and the curmudgeonly Millen, with his rookie Mountie (Andrews) in tow, investigate the allegations. Millen suspects Johnson acted in self-defense, and tries to convince Johnson to come peaceably, but a trigger happy member of the posse (one of Hazel's men) spoils those plans, inadvertently bringing the fury down on their collective heads as Johnson, who we learn later, is a WWI veteran, extremely proficient with weapons and trained to survive in nearly any terrain, leads the group on a bloody chase across the snowy, arctic tundra.
In watching Death Hunt (I dislike that title, and I think it was probably chosen due to the popularity of Bronson's 1974 film Death Wish), I couldn't help notice the similarities with the Sylvester Stallone film First Blood (1982), released a year later.
Both films share a lead characters that;
1. have a military background
2. a loner type seeking the solace of living life of seclusion, preferably away from civilization
3. finds himself in trouble with the law for essentially a crime he didn't commit
4. becomes a fugitive, and the subsequent target of a massive manhunt, which he successfully manages to fend off and elude
Also, both films share a scene where the main character, backed against a cliff, leaps from the cliff onto the top of a tall tree, making their way to relative safety (well, Rambo did get that big, nasty wooden sliver in his arm). The main difference between the two films is that of the law enforcement characters played by Marvin and Brian Dennehy. Dennehy was obviously played up to be the antagonist, thereby garnering a sense of sympathy for the character of Rambo (thereby providing justifications for his actions), while Marvin's character of Edgar Millen is much different. Millen has an inherent understanding and respect for Johnson, leaning towards the belief that Johnson probably acted out of self-defense, but due to forces out of his control (that of a bloody thirsty mob) is now forced to bring Johnson in anyway he can, as it's his duty. There doesn't appear to be any real animosity between the characters of Millen and Johnson, only a mutual understanding that each is doing what they must, either out of a sense of duty or sense of self preservation. The performances weren't necessarily outstanding, but each actor, all professionals, came across well. It's not like Bronson brought anything new to his role, but his character seemed pretty straightforward. Marvin did get a chance to add a little depth to his character, but I always thought his career sort of petered out after The Dirty Dozen...but what a long, successful career it was...the characters played by Weathers and Dickinson (who was the only female character in the film, not counting Buffalo Woman, the local heavy-set prostitute who spoke no English) almost seemed extraneous. The story is pretty straightforward, and moves along well, with lots of action and a nice bits of violence (plenty of guys get shot up, but one in particular gets it right between the eyes, to which we get a nice shot of the bullet exiting the back of his head). The one thing that I did find hard to swallow was a scene where a group of armed men have Johnson's log cabin surrounded, and he's successfully fending them off, to which they decide to use dynamite, literally blowing the cabin to smithereens. Assuming he's dead the men begin to converge on the wreckage, only to be met by an unscathed, armed to the teeth Johnson, who reduces their numbers by a few. Seriously, he didn't have a scratch on him, yet the cabin he was holed up in was completely obliterated. He did dig a couple of trenches within the cabin to better facilitate firing upon those surrounding him, but they weren't that deep.
The widescreen (1.85:1, enhanced for 16x9) picture presented on this DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment looks really good and the audio comes through clean and clear. Special features include a trailer for the film, and a insert containing a reproduction of an original poster for the film.
Where the heck was Sam Peckinpah?!
Chris K. Wilson | Dallas, TX United States | 05/03/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The 1981 film "Death Hunt" is a motion picture screaming for an audience. It has all the earmarks of a memorable action/adventure. But the final result falls short due to the lack of an accomplished director (who is Peter Hunt?) and cluttered second half."Death Hunt" is a great action flick, make no doubt. It's oddly enjoyable seeing old veterans such as Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin - both in the twilight of their unique careers - chewing up the lush Canadian scenery while involved in a battle of wills during a early 20th century man hunt. But it's the build up to the eventual chase, based on a true story, most viewers will remember from this sadly neglected film.Mr. Bronson plays a man weary of society and war who returns to the mountains to get away from the bustle. Along the way, he rudely breaks up a man-made dogfight, saving a wounded shepherd from certain death. Such a rude interruption creates resentment, and several of the dog's former owners hike up to Charles' cabin to take the hound back. Bullets soon fly and a combatant ends up dead. Lee Marvin, as the local Canadian Mountie, is then drawn into the conflict.A surprise is in store for the angry posse as they discover that trying to corner Mr. Bronson is akin to trapping a wild beast. By the conclusion of "Death Hunt," many in the cast of supporting veterans (Andrew Stevens, Carl Weathers, Ed Lauter, Angie Dickinson) will end up stiffer than a frozen tree.I will not give away the build up, suffice to say that the action is crisp, fiery and pumped. And the villains of this film, a sad bunch barely a notch above the fighting dogs they force into battle, are reminiscent of many of the colorful miscreants of early Sam Peckinpah films ("Ride the High Country," "The Wild Bunch"). In fact, Peckinpah would have been the perfect director for this opus, though if memory serves he was working on the European "Cross of Iron" at the time. With Mr. Peckinpah at the helm, "Death Hunt" could have achieved lofty heights.Instead, we are treated to a choppy second half of poor editing, confusing continuity, fabricated character motivation (Marvin constantly smiling through his binoculars at a retreating Bronson) and scenes of an attacking airplane which go on forever.What viewers will remember most about "Death Hunt," besides the already-mentioned opening half, is the near-brilliant performance of Lee Marvin as a burned-out Mountie. His presence is the gritty highlight of this energetic film, and one realizes his persona was one of the most admirably cyncial in motion picture history."Death Hunt" is a great discovery for those not yet acquainted with its rustic appeal. It is truthfully one of the last quality films of both Marvin's and Bronson's careers, thus it's the end of two commendable eras. That must be worth the price of someone's hard-earned ticket."
History gets skewered in entertaining action thriller
Darren Harrison | Washington D.C. | 04/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The movie DEATH HUNT turns history on its head, but in doing so it manages to deliver an entertaining movie that details the determination of two men in a manhunt across the Canadian tundra. Directed by James Bond veteran Peter Hunt, who after working as an editor on the first few 007 pictures was promoted to director of the fan favorite ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE and went on to direct such classics as GOLD and SHOUT AT THE DEVIL. The movie DEATH HUNT provides Hunt the opportunity to reteam with his SHOUT AT THE DEVIL star Lee Marvin. Marvin plays a world-weary Canadian Mountie who is obligated (I use that word because Marvin's character seems to feel some sympathy for his quarry) to bring in a trapper (played by a quiet brooding Charles Bronsan) who is being harassed by some local thugs. The execution of this story is excellent, the acting first-rate and the shots of the Yukon breathtaking. Where this movie does falter is in purporting to tell history by tying in the story of the Mad Trapper of Rat River into the fabric of the story - and in doing so unraveling all the history books tell us about the real incident. Just type in `Mad Trapper of Rat River" on an Internet search engine to learn all you want to know about the 1931 incident, but everything we know about the real incident tells us that Albert Johnson was the guilty party. But here Johnson is portrayed as an innocent man whose pursuers use the charge of his being the mad trapper as an excuse to mobolize the law enforcement resources of the Yukon to catch him. Given that nobody to this day really knows the identity of Johnson, the filmmakers invent a rather fanciful past for him. The character Marvin plays - Millen - was also shot and killed by Johnson in a shootout midway through the chase, but in the movie DEATH HUNT Marvin's character is in the chase to the very end. Still, taken as a piece of fiction the movie DEATH HUNT is resounding stuff. I saw it on television some years ago and was hoping it would one day be released on DVD. Hunt is an expert at building suspense and a master at drama - and DEATH HUNT have both those elements in plentiful supply. In addition to Marvin and Bronsan the movie also features an impressive supporting cast with young heartthrob of the late 1970s/1980s Andrew Stevens as a young, eager Mountie and Carl Weathers (of Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies fame) as another weary Mountie. Add to the mix Ed Lauter and Angie Dickinsoin and the pedigree of this feature is obvious. So, the overall verdict? This is an entertaining action adventure with plenty of suspense and drama. Just don't expect an accurate history lesson. Sadly this is a largely bare-bones DVD release with only the theatrical trailer and a print of the original poster to complement it. "
Magnificent mountain mayhem!
Richard P. Mayhew | Silver Spring, MD USA | 04/07/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This film may have been the best movie Charles Bronson ever acted in. Not sure why it is not more well know, if you like action this is you ticket. From the opening scene (dog fight) to the closing scene (shootout) it is nonstop action. Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and Carl Weathers (Apollo Creed guy) are in the cast in addition to Bronson. Ms. Dickinson has a couple of makeout scenes but she takes a backseat to the amourous "Buffalo Woman" in the shack. The setting is the Canadian Rockies and is "based on a true story" from the 1920's or so. The mountain scenery is breathtaking. The movie is filled with sleazy tough guy/mountain men...a real testosterone fest. Vintage weapons, clothing and vehicles add alot to this film. Bronson gets to deliver a few one liners (and .44 caliber lobotomies) that will crack you up. You will like this movie!"
Chris K. Wilson | 09/27/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I just saw this movie yesterday on a cable channel. I had never seen it before, or had I heard of it. After seeing it I can hardly believe this flick isn't much more popular than it is. I think it's one of the best "mountain man" type movies around, as well as action packed. I thought is fairly realistic and didn't contain all that typical B.S. that is usually put in movies like this. I feel if you liked "First Blood," "Jeremiah Johnson," "Abducted," then you should really love this. I find it odd that some of Bronson's best films aren't as popular, such as "Hard Times, and "The Mechanic."Last but not least I love Lee Marvin too, he was good in this."