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November 09, 2012

Fate is the Hunter

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Ralph Nelson - 1964
Twilight Time Region 1 DVD

Nancy Kwan and Suzanne Pleshette in the same movie - the kind of combination that piques my interest. Most of the weight is carried by that axiom of cinema, Glenn Ford. Almost fifty years since the making of this film, it may be hard for more contemporary viewers to fathom that Glenn Ford name was enough to greenlight a movie. Fate is the Hunter is the kind of film that is more correctly designated as an old movie, rather than a classic. I don't know who was clamoring for the Twilight Time DVD rescue. What is of interest is that the movie serves as a nicely preserved example of mid-Sixties entertainment, neither a top line prestige film, nor a low budget programmer, but the kind of medium budget production that normally played in movie theaters.

For Ralph Nelson, the assignment meant a step up, working for 20th Century-Fox, following three critically acclaimed, if smaller budget films, notably Lilies of the Field. Nelson is virtually forgotten nowadays. Even during his peak, he didn't get even a paragraph in Sarris's The American Cinema. For the most part of his career, Nelson has been thematically consistent with his gallery of outsiders seeking to validate themselves.

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In this case, airplane executive Ford finds himself on the outs with everyone else in investigating an airplane crash. For lack of any other evidence, the company wants to peg the blame on swinging bachelor pilot Rod Taylor. Pals who served together in the Pacific during World War II, Ford seeks the truth. That Taylor tricked Ford out of a date with USO performer Jane Russell twenty years ago, or that Taylor makes it a habit of badly singing "Blue Moon", doesn't matter. The structure of the film, with the multiple flashbacks of Rod Taylor, resemble that of a murder mystery, with Ford as the straight, sober, and virtually humorless detective in dogged pursuit of answers that will clear his friend's name.

That the film was made at all was probably due to the memory of two films from books by Ernest Gann having been big hits a decade ago. Those two films were Island in the Sky and The High and the Mighty. The only connection Nelson's film has with Gann's book is the title, and the scenes of hair raising flight. It's not that Fate is the Hunter is a bad film, just not a film as compelling as suggested by its premise. The careers of the stars had pretty much plateaued by this point, and the films commercial prospects weren't helped coming in between My Fair Lady and Roustabout. Ralph Nelson was able to bounce back commercially just a couple months later with Cary Grant as another outsider in the gently comic Father Goose.

There are a few modest pleasures to be found here. I'm a sucker for the Black and White CinemaScope format. There's a big, inky black sky. Some of the shots have a film noir quality. It's notable that Milton Krasner had been the cinematographer for several movies starring Glenn Ford during this time, including the two films Ford made with Vincente Minnelli. Suzanne Pleshette is the reliable supporting player here, the stewardess who is the lone survivor of the crash. Nancy Kwan plays an oceanographer, Rod Taylor's last love. Even with second billing, Kwan's only onscreen a fairly short time, in a role that doesn't make much use of her talents. Constance Towers looks nice, but also is given little to do following more notable work with John Ford and especially Sam Fuller. Dorothy Malone had segued to television guest appearance, and has an uncredited role as high society girl that Taylor was suppose to marry. Malone is a good bad girl here, making the most of her few minutes of screen time, a star that shines with its own incandescence.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 9, 2012 08:07 AM