The Hunting Party (1971)
The Hunting Party is a curious Western, made at a time when the genre was struggling to maintain its popularity with the viewing public. Melissa Ruger (Candice Bergen) is a school teacher married to wealthy Cattle Baron, Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman). When she is abducted by outlaw Frank Calder (Oliver Reed) and his gang, he husband is naturally incensed. He quickly arranges a posse of business associates and uses his personal fortune to equips them all with the latest long-range hunting rifles with telescopic sights. He then sets off in pursuit of Calder's trail before they can cross the border. However, it soon becomes apparent to Ruger’s associates that he may have other motives than just rescuing his wife.
Shot on location in Almería Spain, this gritty western has a strong cast and an intriguing premise. Calder kidnaps Melissa so she can teach him to read. Ruger, a brutal, sadistic and sexually impotent man, is more concerned about maintaining his reputation and demonstrating that no one touches his property. Melissa is drawn to Calder despite his outlaw persona and hopes to save him from himself. However, director Don Medford fails to develop any of these story lines and instead opts to shock with sexual violence and brutal slow-motion shootouts. Ruger’s long-range rifles allow him and his posse to conveniently pick off Calder's men from a great distance.
Despite the films shortcoming it is very interesting to see Oliver Reed in a western and as ever, he acquits himself as well despite the flaws in the screenplay. There is an solid soundtrack by Riz Ortolani and good make up effects by José Antonio Sánchez. The seventies produced many hybrid westerns as the genre strived to maintain its relevance. Sadly, The Hunting Party ultimately fails to make its mark. The themes of Stockholm Syndrome and self-fulfilment are left undeveloped. The film tries to emulate Peckinpah but falls short of his narrative standards. Perhaps director Don Medford, thought the bleak ending was making a broader point. As it stands it simply ends a story that has nowhere else to go.