Fate Is the Hunter
Directed by Ralph Nelson
Studio: Twilight Time (Fox)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 106 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: available now
Review Date: August 7, 2011
Ten minutes after taking off, Consolidated Flight 22 crash lands on a beach killing all but one of its fifty-four occupants, head stewardess Martha Webster (Suzanne Pleshette). The airline, quick to place the blame on the handiest available scapegoat, lays the guilt on the passenger jet’s pilot Captain Jack Savage (Rod Taylor). Savage had the reputation as a hard-drinking, womanizing party boy, but his old friend Sam McBane (Glenn Ford), who had flown with Jack in World War II and knew he’d take his passengers’ lives too responsibly to drink before a flight, takes it upon himself to investigate his friend’s movements leading up to the fateful flight. Along the way, he must track down two mysterious persons who were known to be close to Savage: a Chinese girl (Nancy Kwan) and some man named “Mickey” (Mark Stevens) as well as former flight navigator Ralph Bundy (Wally Cox), Jack’s former fiancé (Dorothy Malone), and his own memories of Jack which weren’t always positive ones.
Harold Medford’s screenplay hits all of the pertinent points, and he uses an able mix of flashbacks and present-day encounters which keeps a nice balance to the storytelling. But Nancy Kwan’s story and Wally Cox’s flashback aren’t especially illuminating in solving the mystery, and while at 104 minutes the film could hardly be said to be overlong, the length of their stories does slow up the narrative’s pace quite a bit. Another scene set during World War II finds guest star Jane Russell performing “No Love, No Nothin’” (good singing but very poor lip-synching to her vocal track) as a USO entertainer, another intrusion that sets Jack’s personality and tendencies up for later scrutiny but ultimately proves rather pointless. The climactic flight to recreate the crash and hopefully arrive at a solution to the mystery is among the film’s best sequences, just as tension-filled as the initial crash which is pictured beautifully in the shocking pre-credit sequence. Nelson’s direction starts and stops (he worked more comfortably in television rather than in feature films), but the solution is a satisfying one, and one feels the journey was worth it once the end is reached. Also to screenwriter Medford’s credit, no artificial romance is cooked up with Ford’s McBane and the women in Savage’s life once he’s gone. There must have been tremendous pressure to add such an audience-pleasing facet to the story, but thankfully the filmmakers didn’t go there.
Glenn Ford is sober and solemn as McBane in one of his better performances (the film’s only stumble with him is in not disguising his age in the World War II sequences; though almost twenty years earlier, he looks the same in both past and present). Rod Taylor has the happy-go-lucky pilot down pat, and by offering us other layers of his personality in the flashbacks, we come to have a more rounded picture of him. Mark Stevens gives a great performance as the tippling Mickey, lost long ago to booze but faithful to his friend. Wally Cox plays his usual milquetoast with authority while Nehemiah Persoff as the chief rival to Ford’s McBane at the airline also acquits himself well. Of the ladies, the best performance is by Mary Wickes as Savage’s nosy landlady, quick to judge and quicker to jump to (wrong) conclusions. Suzanne Pleshette also delivers a strong performance as the rattled flight attendant trying to piece back together what actually happened as she comes out of a state of shock. Nancy Kwan is rather stiff and uninteresting as the oceanographer/ichthyologist mystery woman in Savage’s life.
The Cinemascope theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully rendered in this excellent anamorphically-enhanced transfer. Grayscale registers beautifully with superb contrast and solid white and black levels (though the blacks are a bit variable). Sharpness is unusually good for a standard definition transfer with graphic detail in faces, the grain of the leather jackets, the fabrics of the ladies’ gowns, and even the plane’s upholstery registering cleanly. There are some fleeting dust specks (more in the second half of the film) and some occasional debris. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. As is so often the case for films of this era, sound is rather moderate in impact with not a lot of bass in the mix and sound effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s score placed together with the nicely recorded dialogue for the mix. There is a bit of hiss that crops up from time to time and just the slightest bit of flutter at one point, but these are not major problems with the audio track.
The isolated score and effects track presents Jerry’s Goldsmith’s main title theme and end credits music in full-bodied stereo. Elsewhere, the music sounds more monaural, and it’s a relatively spare score compared to others in this series.
The theatrical trailer is presented in nonanamorphic letterbox and runs for 3 ¼ minutes.
The enclosed seven page booklet contains stills (some in color, a nice inclusion), the original poster art, and researcher Julie Kirgo’s illuminating essay on the movie.
3.5/5 (not an average)
As part of Twilight Time’s limited availability program, only 3,000 copies of Fate Is the Hunter are available. Those interested in experiencing this underheralded mystery with a superb cast should hop to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. Twilight Time is also available via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies .