The western as we know it was I suppose the invention of the American film industry and it was a genre that was filled with good guys, bad guys, adventure, excitement and also a little romance at times. The American produced movies became the staple diet of many cinema audiences as they enjoyed classics such as THE BIG COUNTRY, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE SEARCHERS, GONE WITH THE WIND, HIGH NOON etc. Then enter foreign westerns as in German, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Greek and even those British guys were having a go.
One western in particular I have always wondered about is THE HUNTING PARTY directed by British film maker Don Medford released in 1971, it starred Oliver Reed, Candice Bergen (fresh from her success in SOLDIER BLUE) and Gene Hackman (who had a following because of his performance in THE FRENCH CONNECTION released earlier in the same year), the attraction for me mostly was the score by Italian Maestro Riz Ortolani. This was unusually raw and brutal in style and sound for Ortolani who is probably best remembered for his film scores that contained haunting melodies and chirpy and catchy tunes.
THE HUNTING PARTY had a great main theme which opened with a repeating electric guitar riff that was supported by percussion and a driving string theme that swept over the listener, sadly the score has never been issued, the only track being released was the actual theme on a United Artists single in 1971 with the song WHERE’S POPPA on the B side.
Watching the movie again recently I can understand why a soundtrack LP was not released, there is not a great deal of music in the movie apart from the theme which can be heard in varying arrangements, the opening sequence containing a powerful arrangement of this, nevertheless a selection of cues from the score would be welcomed, maybe on a compilation of the Maestro’s western music, which could include selections from CIAKMULL also(another unreleased score by Ortolani).
The film itself was met with mixed reaction but most of it being negative, it was seen as a poor imitation of the Italian western format, with copious amounts of blood spattering and slow motion killings in the style of THE WILD BUNCH. Reed seemed awkward and out of place in the movie, with Bergen reduced to a few gasps and Hackman being an incensed rancher who is Bergen’s husband. Bergen is kidnapped by Reed and his bunch of merry men, Reed mistakes her for the local school teacher and decides that he would like to read and write so why not just kidnap her and have some one to one tutor time. The films storyline is basically one of those bandit and lady scenarios which we saw so much in the 1970’s in westerns and also in films such as THE WIND AND THE LION (1975). Bergen’s character although held a prisoner seems to warm to Reed and it unfolds that she is not happy with her Husband who is a sadistic, controlling and disrespectful bully. Reed kidnaps Bergan whilst Hackman is off with his associates on a HUNTING PARTY, but they soon switch the pray they are hunting from wild animals to humans as they begin to track down Reed and his band armed to the teeth with high powered rifles that can pick off a man at 800 yards (making a bloody mess and creating carnage). This is where the director mostly utilises the slow motion action and whilst it is effective it is no where nearly as well done as it was in THE WILD BUNCH, there seems to be fountains of claret at times leaving the outlaws with horrific wounds. The film comes to its conclusion with a final showdown between Reed, Hackman and Bergan. The movie I think lost its way just a little and as I said beforehand Reed was totally out of place in his role.
The one saving grace is the musical score or at least the raw and savage sounding theme for the movie. Maybe one day the music will get a release, but until it does we have to make do with the UA single, or there is always you- tube.
THE HUNTING PARTY was one of a handful of movies that attempted to cash in on the success and popularity of the Italian western, it was filmed in Spain in the same location as Spaghetti westerns that included A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE FIVE MAN ARMY etc, and it had a very similar story line to a handful of spaghetti’s and of course the score by an Italian composer. But Sergio Leone, Sollima or Corbucci it is not.