Naked Prey, The (1966)

The Naked Prey (1966), directed by Cornel Wilde.

Pure survival adventure story with very little adulteration, although the Hollywood conventions are torqued a bit. Set "about 100 years ago".

Big game guide Cornel Wilde has an arrogant and stupid client who insults some local African warriors, who then massacre the safari. The survivors are taken back to the village and tortured and killed in all sorts of inventive and festive ways; one is battered and baked up extra crispy.

Because Wilde has been respectful, stoic and uncomplaining, they treat him better: stripped naked, he gets a head start. But when he kills his first pursuer they are really pissed and are no longer playing games. He runs and runs and runs. And fights. And runs and fights some more. This goes on for days.

You know how when watching thrillers everyone yells at the movie in disgust when the feeble good guys don't pick up the villain's gun? Not a problem here. He takes everything they've got. The spears are particularly impressive: like steel broadswords with throwing handles.

Wilde was 54 years old and still impressively buff. He was ill but wouldn't stop production. During the segment when he's supposed to be naked we can see he's wearing flesh-colored briefs.

Exciting African drumming music throughout. Impressive widescreen vistas of the plains.

The Africans in pursuit are all well drawn individuals and show a range of emotions and character, which is unusual in this type of story. They are obviously unhappy that their leader (Ken Gampu) has become obsessed with this chase. They aren't actually villains: the white people have trespassed and now quite properly have to pay. But: you'd think the warriors would know not to step on twigs that make snapping noises at the wrong moment: Mark Twain zinged J. Fenimore Cooper for that one.

A lot of real hunting: elephants shot and butchered, deer stabbed, and also wildlife fighting, killing and devouring each other. This aspect reminds me of Walkabout (1971), although that story is somewhat reversed: the European kids find aid and friendship in the wilderness.

Wilde does have one tender encounter: he rescues a girl from slavers and she saves him later. This is verging on cute but she soon wisely takes off on her own. Both the slave raid and the "we'll give you a head start" motifs were reused in Gibson's Apocalypto.

The story is said to be based on Colter's Run, relocated from the American Plains to southern Africa.

Criterion DVD. The commentary track has quite a lot on race relations and the film's combination of traditional Dark Continent fantasies with new thinking about dignity and respect for non-white people. Wilde receives praise as an innovative director.

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