Monday, April 25, 2011

Hunted (1952)

The 1950s was something of a golden age for British crime thrillers, and Hunted is a fine example of the breed.

It’s the story of two people on the run. One is a sailor, Chris Lloyd, who has killed his wife’s lover in a crime of passion. The other is a seven-year-old boy fleeing his brutal adoptive father.

Chris Lloyd (Dirk Bogarde) doesn’t really want Robbie (Jon Whitely) trailing along after him but he can’t get rid of him. The boy claims to dislike him but he insists on following him. The boy becomes an increasing liability for the hapless sailor who will hang if the police catch him but he gradually grows oddly fond of the kid. And despite something of a violent temper Chris is basically a kind-hearted soul. He’s been hurt himself and he can’t bring himself to hurt Robbie by abandoning him. And in a hostile world they really have only each other anyway. It’s an odd kind of buddy film.

This is a thriller without gunfights, in fact without any actual onscreen violence at all. Of course Chris’s fatal act of violence towards the man who who stole his wife and the violence Robbie has suffered at the hands of his adoptive father are the driving forces of the film even though we don’t see any of these events. The fact that we don’t see the violent acts actually strengthens the film because it concentrates our attention on the psychological results rather than acts themselves.

While there’s no violence there’s plenty of suspense. Director Charles Crichton had a varied career in film and television and does a very solid job.

The key to the film is the focus on the personalities of Chris and Robbie and on their relationship as it progresses from toleration to affection. Jon Whitely is likeable as the kid. Dirk Bogarde initially alienates our sympathies by his apparently callous attitude towards his young travelling companion but as the movie progresses we slowly gain understanding of Chris’s character and the reasons for his bitterness and we gradually come to realise that he’s actually a fundamentally gentle and sensitive man. It takes time for him to regain his trust in humanity. It’s a complex and subtle performance, as you’d expect from Bogarde.

While it can’t really be described a a film noir it does have some affinities with film noir with its doomed protagonist who has led himself in a desperate predicament without ever quite understanding how it happened. There’s plenty of atmospheric and suitably gloomy black-and-white cinematography, so if you’re a film noir fan you’re probably going to enjoy this one.

Definitely worth seeing. The out-of-print Australian DVD unfortunately seems to be the only DVD release for this movie. Recommended if you can find a copy.

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