Saturday, June 28, 2008

When One Stood Against Many

I've liked the film The Naked Prey (1966) for a while. It tells the story of one man given a chance to run for his life after the Great White Hunter he is guiding insults a warrior from an African tribe. The Warrior get his revenge by attacking the Hunter camp and capturing the Ivory Poachers. The African baggage carriers are given quick deaths, but the white Ivory Hunters are put to death in inventive and gruesome ways. However, the guide who is never named is given a chance for his life and by a combination of luck and skill he survives. Much of the movie watches like an extended Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom episode.

What always struck me about The Naked Prey was the non-stereotypical treatment of the Africans and The Ivory Poachers. The African tribe doesn't inflict these deaths due to their inherit savagery but after being insulted. And the Poachers aren't shown as bringing the light of European Civilization to the savage Africans but as loud, boorish, uncultured thieves.

I figured this might be based on an actual story from the European control of Africa or out of the fevered pen of Joseph Conrad but it turns out this is based on the exploit of John Colter, a member of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, in an escape from Blackfeet Indians. Colter told British Naturalist John Bradbury of his escape, According to Bradbury's accounting;

They now seized Colter, stripped him entirely naked, and began to consult on the manner in which he should be put to death. They were first inclined to set him up as a mark to shoot at; but the chief interfered, and seizing him by the shoulder, asked him if he could run fast?

The chief now commanded the party to remain stationary, and led Colter out on the prairie three or four hundred yards, and released him, bidding him to save himself if he could. At that instant the horrid war whoop sounded in the ears of poor Colter, who, urged with the hope of preserving life, ran with a speed at which he was himself surprised.

I wonder where Richard Connell, the writer of "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924), got the idea for his short story. Since Hollywood is bereft of ideas most writers and actors owe their comfortable existence to "The Most Dangerous Game". Something about the one against many and the desperate hunted man resonates in the minds of man. I can think of several blockbusters which utilize this motif.

Predator (1987)
Die Hard (1988)
Under Siege (1992)
Hard Target (1993)
Surviving the Game (1994)
Apocalypto (2006)

No comments: