Death Hunt : Canada 1931: The unsociable trapper Johnson lives for himself in the ice-cold mountains near the Yukon river. During a visit in the town he witnesses a dog-fight. He interrupts the game and buys one of the dogs – almost dead already – for $200 against the owner’s will. When the owner Hasel complains to Mountie Sergeant Millen, he refuses to take action. But then the loathing breeder and his friends accuse Johnson of murder. So Millen, although sympathetic, has to try to take him under arrest – but Johnson defends his freedom in every way possible.
With a lurid title like “Death Hunt” and lead actors like Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin, it would be easy to dismiss this film as just another shoot-’em-up run through the mill to capitalize on the marquee names (particularly Bronson). To do so, however, would be to overlook a well-made gem of an adventure film.
The problem, of course, with most films of this ilk is that they offer a minimum set-up and characters and then set the guns a-blazin’. Not so here. The premise is established well, with Bronson as the noble loner and Marvin as the gruff, weary Canadian Mountie. The themes and plot devices are familiar, to be sure – the sense of honor, the anti-hero, the wet behind the ears rookie lawman, even a little bit of a love story.
I had seen most of this film on cable and thought I understood it. Recently I rented it so I could finally see the first half hour and my feelings about it changed. Seeing the film from start to finish, I realized I had misjudged the intentions of the Marvin character. I thought the character was just another “honorable to the point of dishonorable” hero, when in fact he’s a conflicted man. During the film, you can see that he knows he’s as much responsible for what has happened, and he’s not so much interested in “doing the right thing” as he is in covering his own rear end.
I was surprised to see in the beginning that the film is set in 1931; it seems much like a Western. But then you realize that this was still a very isolated area and that, unlike the southwest, civilization hadn’t quite caught up with this part of the world yet – particularly with lawmen like Marvin on duty.
“Death Hunt” delivers all the goods. There is plenty of action and excitement, yet also a lot of substance as the story unfolds. It’s a notch above most films of its kind.