The Last Hunt (DVD Review)23 Jan, 2012 By: Mike Clark
Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Stars Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Lloyd Nolan, Debra Paget.
Robert Taylor was with Golden Age MGM longer than any other contract actor (34 years), but even this month my 89-year-old mother was commenting that she never thought he was much of an actor beyond his obvious great looks. In this Richard Brooks Western released two years before the end of his MGM run, Taylor played one of the few bad guys of his career — and certainly a more sociopathic one than the not unsympathetic hood he played in 1941’s Johnny Eager (a huge favorite of my childhood that pretty well ended the gangster cycle that Cagney’s White Heat later rejuvenated). I’ve known or read of more than a couple of people who think The Last Hunt contains Taylor’s best performance, and I’d probably concur. Maybe the studio should have liberated Taylor out of his heroic mold — at least once in a while.
The rest is typical Brooks, whose oeuvre has always been to me among the least visually arresting of any “name” director’s, or at least until he worked with the great Conrad Hall on 1967’s In Cold Blood fairly late in his career. Hunt, which does have grabber subject matter about the slaughter of buffalos (and, worse, white buffaloes) was shot in CinemaScope and dreaded Eastman Color, and even a nice remastered print here is mighty secondary to the glories of John Ford’s same year Technicolor The Searchers. Of course, 1956 was a good year for Western specialists: Budd Boetticher had Seven Men From Now, another huge childhood favorite of mine, and Delmer Daves had Jubal, a kind of white guys Othello-on-the range conceit that I still find pretty interesting. (For his part, Anthony Mann was “going interior” with the strange Mario Lanza version of James M. Cain’s Serenade — an entirely different bag, albeit one also newly available as we speak from Warner’s on-demand wing.)
Meanwhile, back with the buffalo, swashbucklers (or at least big-budget ones) were fizzling out by the 1950s, which meant that frequent sword-wielder Stewart Granger had to diversify. Cast here as a former Dakota buffalo hunter wary of resuming his old trade, Granger gets nudged into doing so by a cattleman hopeful (Taylor) whose stock is stampeded by an already endangered species. The two become partners, and uncomfortable ones, because Granger correctly get the impression that Taylor likes to kill for fun because in a perverse way he thinks a person is most alive when doing so. Taylor isn’t big on his fellow man (or woman), and in due course offers shabby on-the-trail treatment to a one-legged sot/mule skinner and old friend of Granger (Lloyd Nolan); a half-breed trying to make it in a white man’s world (Russ Tamblyn); and a Sioux single mother (Debra Paget) who becomes a major source of contention between the two male principals. This was when MGM was trying to figure out to do with Tamblyn before it dreamed up tom thumb (just after Hunt and in The Fastest Gun Alive, the studio actually had Tamblyn jumping around on a pogo stick at a hoedown). As for Paget, she was theoretically no more of a natural for this as she was for The Ten Commandments, but she has some touching moments here and was certainly never more beautiful on screen.
Getting what I think must have been a hair-dye assist, Taylor looks a little different and emotes in a manner atypical for him — as a guy not too sure of himself. He’s a jerk who flies off the handle but is then contrite while trying to make-good; his dimness here reminds me a little of Rick Perry’s but with more malevolence. I don’t think there’s a performance like it in the Taylor canon and would be curious to hear from anyone who can tell me I’m wrong.