[box cover]

The Hunter

It would be nice if The Hunter, Steve McQueen's final film before his untimely death in 1980 (at only 50 years old) was a glorious swan-song, one final flourish from the legendary movie star who thrilled audiences in such classics as The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Bullitt. Unfortunately this last effort is a carelessly structured film, and while it offers a few delights, the greatest appeal will be with McQueen's fans. McQueen stars as Ralph "Papa" Thorson, a real-life bounty hunter who delivers bail-jumpers back to trial and collects the reward money put up by their bail bondsmen. As The Hunter likes to point out (almost too much), bounty hunters are from another era, and so is Thorson, a man more interested in opera and antique toys than new things, including change — he refuses to marry his pregnant girlfriend Dotty (Kathryn Harrold), and his large home is constantly filled with poker-playing friends. Based on some of the real-life exploits of Ralph Thorson, The Hunter's plot skips around quite a bit, which might seem annoying, as the story never gets any sort of traction. But at the same time it's not unwelcome — hardly any of the sequences would be worth a feature-length film in their own right. If that makes The Hunter seem like a two-hour pilot to an '80s TV series, it should come as no surprise, as director Buzz Kulik is a veteran of the small screen, helming episodes of Gunsmoke and Playhouse 90 during television's Golden Age, as well as 1971's Brian's Song. In the course of the story Thorson collars a bail-jumper who is also an electronics whiz (LeVar Burton); hunts down a lunatic pair of redneck brothers; confronts a double-crossing cop about to take the fall; gets stuck on top of a fast-moving elevated train in Chicago while hunting another perp; and learns a felon just out of the joint is trying to assassinate him. It's a patchwork of ideas at best, but it probably would have made a good network show. McQueen acquits himself well, despite suffering from a rare, debilitating form of cancer. And there is a final wink to McQueen fans, as Ralph Thorson is a terrible driver — the hot-rodding King of Cool cannot parallel park in this movie, and he spins rubber in a rented Trans Am. Paramount's DVD release of The Hunter offers a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a good source print, with audio in monaural DD 2.0. Trailer, keep-case.

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