Thursday, February 22, 2018

In short: The Hunted (1948)

Warning: there will be spoilers for this 70 year old film!

Four years ago, Los Angeles cop Johnny Saxon (Preston Foster), arrested his girlfriend Laura Mead (Belita, apparently a British ice skater turned actress, which leads to the more typical noir scene of the female lead huskily singing a torch song being replaced by an ice skating number) for a diamond robbery. Laura always has been adamant she didn’t commit the crime, but the jewels were found in her apartment, and clearly, that’s enough for a guy like Saxon and for the law of the land, even if they have no other proof whatsoever. Before she went down, Laura swore to murder Johnny as well as her attorney (Pierre Watkin), so now that she is getting out of the slammer on parole, Johnny and the attorney are becoming somewhat sweaty.

Though, to be fair, Johnny has been sweating ever since Laura was declared guilty, his conscience poking him, if rather late in the game. Why, now she’s out, he’s even helping her get a job and a place to live. He’s also following her around with the mildly creepy expression of a jilted lover, clearly now having fallen in love with her even more. After some back and forth, Laura – insanely – even reciprocates, but once she’s under suspicion for a crime again, he’s quickly back to his old shitty ways.

For my taste, Jack Bernhard’s The Hunted is only a very minor noir. As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure I’d call it a true noir, given that is uses only some of the non-genre’s tropes and little of its philosophy. On the positive side, this does also mean there for once isn’t anything amounting to a femme fatale in this one – the true moral villain is Johnny, a guy who likes to talk a lot about duty but seems to have no concept of personal loyalty to the people he supposedly loves at all. Unfortunately, the film really doesn’t do enough with this, nor does it bother to give the audience any reason to believe Laura would actually want to get back together with him – “sorry, for putting you in prison, honey” somehow doesn’t quite cut it.

Former pulp writer Steve Fisher’s script has its moments, for sure – it is certainly well paced, and some of the dialogue (particularly Laura being sarcastic and standoffish early on) is witty enough. The problem is that there’s so much less going on here than it at first appears, Laura and Johnny’s early interactions promising an emotional and perhaps moral complexity the film isn’t going to deliver later on. It certainly doesn’t help that The Hunted ends in what it apparently wants us to treat as a happy end, but which really doesn’t solve the central point of Johnny being a complete dick at all.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a perfectly entertaining film of its time, going by snappily, featuring decent actors doing their stuff, decently, but there’s too much of the better film about trust and obsession inside of it shining through to make it terribly satisfying.

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