Cry of the Hunted


It could be argued that every story is at heart a tale of pursuit, a fictional quest where the prize sought might be material (money, treasure, etc) or spiritual (love, contentment, redemption, revenge, and so on), or the quarry might be of the classic, and slipperiest variety: a human being. For the viewer, the race to capture or recapture a fugitive always tends to raise the dramatic stakes, providing scope for shifting sympathies and asking questions about the role of, and indeed the relationship between the hunter and the hunted. Such should be the case with Cry of the Hunted (1953), where both parties involved in this particular game of hide and seek come to realize that their objectives might be different to what they had initially believed. Yet this is only partially fulfilled and the result of it all is that the movie ends up pulling some of its punches.

Speaking of pulling punches, there’s not much of that in the early stages, when Lieutenant Tunner (Barry Sullivan) tries to get convicted getaway driver Jory (Vittorio Gassman) to dish the dirt on his accomplices. The outcome is a bruising and punishing encounter, but one which makes it clear that both men, despite their entrenched positions on opposing sides of the law, have a grudging mutual respect. A traffic accident in downtown Los Angeles affords Jory the chance to escape, making use of the iconic Angels Flight in Bunker Hill, and he grabs his opportunity with both hands. The galled lawmen now have red faces to go with their grey suits and the only way to cool this situation is to arrange for the recapture of the prisoner as soon as possible. Jory is a man of the Bayou, the Louisiana marshland where the alligators aren’t the only threat, and it’s not hard to figure out he will be heading back there, back to his home and his wife. And so it is that Tunner is sent across the country to bring the fugitive back. He’s on top of things soon enough, almost laying Jory by the heels when he intercepts the freight train he is riding, and then tracks him to his shack in the swamps. A shade too much overconfidence is his undoing though, turning his back at the wrong moment leads to a concussion, a bellyful of filthy water, and a stay in hospital. All of this means the trail will need to be picked up once again, this time in the company of a colleague (William Conrad) who is keen to grab his job.

The entire setup here is most promising. The plot has a good deal of potential, the setting offers danger and atmosphere, and Joseph H Lewis as director always holds out the hope of some interesting visual flourishes. Lewis does get some value from the swampy surroundings, and the short sequence involving Sullivan’s fever dream (a shot from which can be seen above) is attractive even if it doesn’t actually add much to the story. However, for all that promise and potential, the finished movie falls a bit short. Now, it is never boring and Lewis keeps the pace up and the running time down, but the development of the plot is rather flat and predictable. Even a low budget effort such as The Ride Back (coincidentally, also featuring William Conrad in a prominent role) flips expectations to an extent by having hunter and hunted virtually changing places and gaining some personal insight as a result. In Cry of the Hunted, however, there is none of that.

Sullivan starts out as a well-meaning and conscientious guy with a hard edge and he never wavers or strays from that path, winding up in essentially the same place as he began. The part is a solid one, playing up the brash needling side of himself that Sullivan often showed and shoring it up with a strong core of decency and humanity. I haven’t seen a lot of Gassman’s work, which probably says much about my limited exposure to Italian cinema, but his character does get to undergo a touch more growth. I emphasize the fact that it is only a touch more though; there’s never really much doubt that his heart is in the right place or that he has it within him to come good. I reckon the writers missed a trick in the last act and should have had Sullivan laid up with an injury and needing to be saved by Gassman rather than the other way around. I seem to be on a bit of a William Conrad kick just now and he is good value as Sullivan’s subordinate and competitor. He seems to have been set to take on a meaner role (goading Gassman in the early stages, beating up a witness) but the script only leads him a short way down that particular path before allowing his better nature to take charge. Polly Bergen (Cape Fear, Escape from Fort Bravo) drifts in and out of the picture in a small role as Sullivan’s wife.

Cry of the Hunted is an MGM production, but it was not one of the studio’s top line pictures. It’s a small affair with some attractive location shooting and a tight, self-contained cast. Even second string movies from such a big studio have a fair bit of polish and it’s interesting to see MGM branching out into this more socially aware material, although it is nowhere near as challenging as it could have been when one takes into account the strong initial premise. I think it is fair to say it never really fires on all cylinders and it feels like a minor work from Lewis. Nevertheless, any opportunity to spend an hour and a quarter or thereabouts in the company of actors like Barry Sullivan and William Conrad is not something I would ever consider a chore. As for availability, it should be easy enough to locate seeing as the Warner Brothers Archive released a good-looking copy a few years ago. So, it’s definitely worth checking out and enjoyable enough as far as it goes, as long as it is approached with realistic expectations.

46 thoughts on “Cry of the Hunted

  1. It reminds me a bit of another Joseph H. Lewis movie from the same period, A Lady Without Passport. Which is a movie that doesn’t get much love, even from Joseph H. Lewis fans.

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  2. I found “CRY OF THE HUNTED” an OK watch but not a whole lot more. To be fair though the unusual locations stay in the memory and Joseph H. Lewis always got a lot from his budget.
    I tend to place Barry Sullivan in company with always solid actors like Robert Ryan, Van Heflin and some others. They always lift any movie they are in.

    Interesting mention of “A LADY WITHOUT PASSPORT” as I have a copy sitting in my ‘to watch’ pile, having never seen the film. And, by the way, I might add star John Hodiak to the list of actors above.

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  3. Pingback: Ambulance - Crime Film Hub Daily: March 23rd 2022

  4. Thanks for bringing this one up Colin.. I saw a vhs copy off tv many moons ago. Really cannot recall what I thought of it. But as it so happens, It is showing on TCM here on this April 7th. So needless to say the recording is set.

    Gord

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  5. Weekend films…
    First up is the Aussie Police tale HIGH GROUND.2021 Set some decades ago Simon Baker and Jack Thompson are after an aboriginal through the outback. Never seen it, but it has a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.
    Next up will be, TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH 1949. Perhaps my fav Greg Peck film. Seen it 10 times and hopefully I can catch it 10 more.

    The rest of the weekend is packed with various hockey games.

    Have a good weekend folks.
    Gordon

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    • I’ve been meaning to take another look at Twelve O’Clock High for a while – I had it in mind as part of a short themed run of posts – but for one reason and another I haven’t been in the mood for war films of late, which I’ll admit isn’t necessarily all that logical of me. I do want to get to it in the not too distant future though.

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  6. Love Twelve O’ Clock High. Couldn’t believe when I got to watch it as part of a management training course at work!,
    Do hope you’ll review it sometime ,Colin.

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  7. Folks
    A Flynn film I have not seen since we still had a B/W television, is coming up on TCM next week. AGAINST ALL FLAGS from 1953 with Anthony Quinn, Mildred Natwick and Maureen O’Hara. George Sherman handles the direction. All that I recall is that it is a pirate adventure. Any opinions among you good people? Needless to say I am recording it.
    Gordon

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  8. Colin
    Speaking of Errol Flynn. Last week I watched a 1957 episode of “The Errol Flynn Theater”. The episode, STANGE AUCTION, while not a barnburner was of some interest. It starred, Errol, his wife at the time,
    Patrice Wymore and his son, Sean Flynn. Episode was directed by UK B film and tv man Lawrence Huntington.

    Gord

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    • I keep meaning to check out more of that show as I know at least some of it can be viewed on YouTube, so thanks for the reminder.
      And Lawrence Huntington was a very dependable filmmaker, whose work I must dip into again.

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  9. Lawrence Huntington was once an A List Brit director especially with his Noirs, WANTED FOR MURDER, MAN ON THE RUN and THE UPTURNED GLASS. Like so many of his fellow A Listers; Arthur Crabtree,Lance Comfort, Compton Bennett and the like during the 50’s their work downgraded to B Movies and 1/2 hour TV episodes,at least the work was plentiful and times were certainly a’ changing in the UK film industry. When the Brit “New Wave” arrived,Richardson, Schlesinger Anderson and others; these veteran filmmakers seemed even more irrelevant. Sadly, Huntington’s last film THE VULTURE was also his worst despite a halfway decent cast. Just before that he had made STRANGLEHOLD now considered a “lost” Brit B Flick and not at all bad-Hollywood’s Macdonald Carey and Barbara Shelley on board. STRANGLEHOLD is the sort of picture that surfaces on the UK’s Talking Pictures TV….let’s hope so.

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    • Yes, fashions change of course, but it seems a bit of a shame for some of the directors such as those you mention here who were still doing good work but saw their style fall out of favor and their opportunities limited.

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    • And when you look at the films of those New Wave directors some of them now seem self-consciously clever and horribly dated. I used to think they were terribly exciting but today you couldn’t pay me to watch the movies of Anderson or Richardson, or most of Schlesinger’s work. Unbelievably tedious and pretentious.

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        • I did feel a bit nervous that I was going to get mown down by machine-gun fire!

          My theory is that whenever you get movie-makers taking themselves really really seriously you end up with a lot of unwatchable movies. I think that to a large extent the New American Cinema of the period from about 1967 to the late 70s provides another case in point.

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  10. Colin
    Speaking of, Vittorio Gassman, I found a print of his THE GLASS WALL on You Tube. I see the female lead is Gloria Grahame. That is enough reason to add it to my must see list.

    Gordon

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  11. Everyone
    And for this weekend’s viewing pleasure I’ll take in, BRUTE FORCE 1947 and from 1976, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. Both are top flight works of moviemaking.

    Have a good weekend folks.

    Gord

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