Thursday, September 30, 2010

FORGOTTEN GEM? "The Hunters"

     Last night I watched an old Korean War air combat movie entitled "The Hunters".  It stars Robert Mitchum as Robert Mitchum, I mean Maj. Cleve (Iceman) Saville.  He has wangled an assignment flying F-86s in combat even though he is a little old for it, but its his job and "it's the only war I got".  Before he even gets to Korea he falls in love with another pilot's wife, but it's okay because the other guy is a coward + an alcoholic + a cad.  Surprisingly, when the wife reluctantly turns back his advances, he agrees to watch over her husband.  At the new squadron, Saville meets the younger version of himself in the form of "hot shot' Ed Pell (played by a young Robert Wagner) who talks like a beatnik, daddy-o.
     Pell starts his rise to acedom by abandoning his wingman's damaged plane to get his first kill.  The wingman proceeds to switch into a F-100 for a horrific crash landing.  (Too bad the poor sucker killed in the actual footage didn't think to fly a F-86.  That's okay - all jets look alike.)  Saville tries to get Pell removed from his flight, but his old squadron boss basically says boys will be boys and you were like that once, so shut up.  Saville settles for punching Fell which, of course, substitutes for therapy in war movies.
     The husband, ever the cad, offers a deal to Saville.  Let him go 1v1 against the Chinese ace "Casey Jones" and you can have my wife.  Saville refuses, but Abbot does it anyway and gets shot up by the commie.  Saville shoots down Casey and then searches for Abbott.  When he spots his parachute in a tree, he does what anyone would do.  He crash lands behind enemy lines to rescue a guy who he doesn't even know is alive and whose wife he wants to marry.  Oh, and he despises the guy.
      The same Chinese that killed Brubaker in "Bridges at Toko-Ri", come after Saville and the wounded Abbott.  Pell returns, although low on fuel and strafes the commies, but gets shot down by ground fire.  He unites with the other two (North Korea is a small country) and they eventually get back to friendly lines.  Not without incident, of course.
      My father flew the F-86 in Korea (not during the war), so the movie was personal for me.  I am glad to say, the best acting is by the plane.  It looks fast and sounds fast.  The aerial scenes are great and the dogfights look realistic except the Migs always expode.  One plus is the F-86s have the pilot's names on them so we know who we are watching.  We also know who Casey Jones is because he has a "7-11" and dice painted on his fuselage.
      The movie is historically accurate in pointing out that the Migs had a sanctuary in China by simply crossing the Yalu River.  Although there was no "Casey Jones", both Korea and Vietnam produced legendary fighter foes.  The movie also alludes to the unpopularity of the war.  Even the pilots wonder what they are fighting for, but they are professionals so they do their job.  The Migs are protrayed by F-84s, but that is acceptable since I do not think Mao Zedong and Kim Il Sung were interested in the movie.
       The plot brings the movie down.  The romance is not true to human nature.  Certainly not fighter pilot nature.  The movie gets positively ridiculous after the trio crashes.  Enjoy.  The real reason for the average viewer to see this movie is to witness the performance of Robert Wagner.  He totally hams it up and the words the screenwriter puts in his mouth are so bizarre that you laugh while your jaw drops.  Feel free to use some of his hepcat slang.  His character's lingo would have been an improvement to his dialogue in "Austin Powers" and fit in better than in this movie.  This was apparently how old men lured teenagers to war movies in 1958.  Great drinking game - take a shot every time Pell says something a faux beatnik would say.  Bottoms up!


  1. Not sure what to make of this. I think the "gem" was a tad sarcastic. But I can see the importance for you. I actually don't know, do you fly as well? I know a few people who would like nothing more thant fly a fighter plane. Sounds as if they could have made a very decent movie if they had been more serious about the plot.

  2. I am calling one of my subtopics "Forgotten Gems" to indicate it is a movie that I feel is not well known to the general public. I will try to determine if the movie deserves to be better known. It is not meant to be sarcastic. Thanks for commenting so I could clear this up. I should have been more clear to begin with.
    As far as flying, unfortunately I can not claim to be a pilot or even a flier. However, I grew up the son of a fighter pilot and dreamed of being a pilot. Poor eyesight ended that dream. I was obsessed with WWII air combat as a teenager and read many books on aces. I also can identify every American fighter plane from WWII on and most other country's WWII fighters.
    I am harsh with this movie because of the corny plot. The air scenes are among the best I have seen and it is definitely the best movie ever made about the F-86 Sabre (LOL).

  3. One other thing about the aerial scenes. There are deleted scenes of the F-84F (MiGs and Casey jones) that are used in the Airwolf tv series.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.