Public service announcement: if you suggest a movie to me on social media, please be sure to specify which version you would like me to see. Lord knows, I do not say this for my own benefit. I am (imperfectly) happy watching whatever it is you put on my list. Because of my desire to serve your interests, I want to be sure that I am getting the correct film. This might not seem like a big deal to some of you, but if you believe Hollywood is a hive of creativity, you would be mistaken. They recycle, rename, and reuse ideas all the time. For instance, when I tried to find the film The Hunter, I realized there were two titles by the same name. Of course, I could have stopped, asked for clarification, and moved onto the next movie on my list. However, I noticed that the 1980 version stars Steve McQueen. I like Steve McQueen, and a little more digging on it and his career revealed that it was his last film. The fact that the climactic chase near the end was shot in Chicago helped too, though I did not know this before watching it. If you want me review the 2011 iteration starring Willem Dafoe, please feel free to add it to the queue. In the meantime, take a look at this discussion of 1980’s The Hunter.
There is a strange opening crawl to The Hunter that discusses how bounty hunters came to be a thing in the United States. Something about an 1872 Supreme Court decision empowering law enforcement to employ private citizens to track down fugitives who have skipped out on their bail. It also mentions that the film is based on a real-life bounty hunter, those who hunt and capture fugitives, named Ralph “Papa” Thorson (Steve McQueen). He is an old-fashioned type, driving a vintage Chevy (and poorly, which is hilarious if you know anything about McQueen) and performing a duty more suited to the Wild West. He confidently strides into an all African-American town in Texas in pursuit of Tommy Price (LeVar Burton), who is wanted back in Los Angeles. He then takes down the humongous Billie Joe (Karl Schueneman), over the objections of Houston’s Sheriff Strong (Ben Johnson), who is uncle to Billie Joe. In short, Papa does not let anyone stand in the way of him and his targets. Dropping off his bounties in a Los Angeles police station, he returns to his home. It is being watched by a mysterious figure, though he does not notice the surveillance. When he steps inside, there are a collection of people there playing cards, who he greets as he passes them on the way to the bedroom. There he finds his pregnant girlfriend Dotty (Kathryn Harrold), greeting her with a kiss. The next day, he meets with his boss, Ritchie Blumenthal (Eli Wallach), in order to collect his fees for his services. When Papa gets to the office, he is meeting with the Bernardo family. Their son (Thomas Rosales Jr.), a violent offender, is out of jail on bond and missing, and if he does not show up for his court date the family will have to put up their restaurant as collateral. This is not something Ritchie is eager to have, and he tries to get Papa to take on the case. Instead, he insists on a supposedly easier target, the Branch brothers, because he feels like he is getting too old for the dangerous work. Getting to the Branch brothers involves flying to Nebraska, risk getting blown up by the dynamite tossing siblings, and chasing them down in a combine after they steal his car. Upon returning to Los Angeles, he learns that his police friend Captain Spota (Richard Venture) is having trouble, being investigated for stealing drugs from evidence. When Captain Spota commits suicide, it makes Papa question the life he has been leading, and it includes his relationship with Dotty. Still, he decides to take on the Bernardo case, and this leads him to Chicago. A thrilling chase ensues that involves leaping from building to building, dangling from an El train, and Bernardo driving a car off the side of one of the Marina Towers and into the Chicago River. It is one brush with death too many, although the worst is yet to come when he gets home. Remember that mysterious figure outside his house. That is Rocco Mason (Tracey Walter), someone formerly captured by Papa, who wants revenge on the bounty hunter. In doing so, he takes Dotty hostage at the school where she works. It is meant to be a trap for Papa, though he is able to lure Mason into the chemistry lab and blow it up with the would-be killer inside. Unfortunately, the excitement of the proceedings causes Dotty to go into labor. Papa makes a mad dash for the hospital, though they do not get there in time for her to have the baby in the relative comfort of a delivery room. Never fear, though, as a healthy baby is delivered in the front seat of the old Chevy, and we end with a seemingly happy new family.
The Hunter is okay, though those of you who know me best can probably guess what I liked most about it. The Chicago scenes, of course. The neighborhood where Papa finds Bernardo is Uptown, and they get on the El at the Lawrence stop. I remember these locations well from my time studying at Loyola, having been up and down the Red Line more times than I can count. I like movies that show off my city. The rest of the film is kind of corny, and bittersweet when you know that it is McQueen’s last film.
There is one small part of The Hunter that must be commented on from a Faith perspective, and it struck me as quite odd. Throughout the film there is a certain tension between Dotty and Papa, although they clearly love each other. Why, I do not know, but that is a separate issue. It begins with the fact that they conceived a child out of wedlock, which is not the most Catholic thing to do. Still, they do not seem like the kind of people who care about such formalities, and they appear to be good people in general, so we will not linger on this aspect. So long as they are accepting new life, which trumps everything in the Catholic world view, then that is something. At the same time, the fact that Dotty is about to give birth is not entirely to Papa’s liking. She had been trying to get him interested in the child, inviting him to lamaze classes to which he grudgingly accepted. Yet, when he in a funk over the death of Captain Spota (which does not hit home because their friendship is barely discussed), he reveals that he wanted her to get an abortion. This is, of course, a huge no-no in Catholicism. Thank God Dotty did not accede to this suggestion. They also seem quite happy in the end, which is good to see too.
The Hunter is not the greatest movie ever. Yet, if you are Steve McQueen fan and you have not seen it, you should do so as a send-off to a Hollywood legend. For me, my favorite film of his will always be The Great Escape (1963). Still, he could have done worse as far as last looks go.