The Last Hunt

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 31, 2014

The Last Hunt—Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Russ Tamblyn, Lloyd Nolan, Debra Paget (1956; Dir:  Richard Brooks)

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A psychological western set in 1883 in Dakota Territory, when the buffalo herds were mostly gone.  Sandy McKenzie (Stewart Granger) is a former buffalo hunter whose modest herd of cattle is destroyed in a buffalo stampede.  He is lured back to his former profession by Charlie Gilson (Robert Taylor), for a final go to make a stake to replace his herd.  They take Woodfoot (Lloyd Nolan), a one-legged alcoholic buffalo skinner, and Jimmy O’Brien (Russ Tamblyn, as an improbable-looking Indian half-breed). 

As it turns out, Gilson is a killer who hates Indians.  It’s obvious that Gilson and the decent McKenzie will clash at some point.  When it comes down to the hunting, Gilson gets spooked by the buffalo and comes to see McKenzie as the source of his problems.  Debra Paget is an unlikely-looking Indian woman with a small child, acquired by the band when Gilson guns down three Indian males who steal their mules.  Gilson and McKenzie have conflicts over her and over a while buffalo skin they acquire in their hunt. 


[Spoilers follow.]  Gilson gets jumpier, more unreasonable and more unstable; he kills Woodfoot when Woodfoot tries to stop him from hunting McKenzie.  However, at the end Gilson freezes to death waiting to gun down McKenzie. 

Taylor is effective in a rare bad-guy role.  The downward trajectory of Gilson is sometimes compared to that of Humphrey Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  Interesting but talky, especially Nolan’s character, and it’s kind of downbeat.  This was written by director Richard Brooks, who needed an editor for the script but didn’t have one.  (This is similar in that regard to the better The Professionals ten years later, also written and directed by Brooks.)  


 Woodfoot (Lloyd Nolan) warns McKenzie (Stewart Granger).

Some of the attitudes here seem a bit anachronistic—more politically correct than they would have been in the 1880s, but certainly less so than in the current 21st century.  There is more angst and psychological disintegration here than in most westerns.  Based on a novel by Milton Lott.  Shot in color in South Dakota. 

For more Stewart Granger in westerns, see The Wild North (1952) and North to Alaska (1960).  As the titles suggest, those are northern westerns set in northern Canada and Alaska.  Late in his career he also moved into German movies adapting Karl May’s Old Shatterhand stories.  Robert Taylor starred in westerns from Billy the Kid (1941) to the end of his career in the late 1960s.  A couple of the best of them are Westward the Women (1951) and The Law and Jake Wade (1958).  He often wore black, although he was seldom the bad guy as he was here.  During the 1950s Debra Paget often played exotic ethnics, including several movies in which she played Indian maidens, as she does here.  The first (and probably the best) such was Broken Arrow (1950), in which she plays a young Apache woman who marries James Stewart; she was only 15 when filming began on that one.

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