Trapper Larry (Cornel Wilde) leads an expedition through the African plains, funded by a wealthy businessman (Gert van den Bergh) who's there to hunt elephants for ivory.
They happen upon a group of local tribesmen. Larry informs his employer that the tribe expect a small donation before they will let the expedition pass. The businessman dismisses this notion and barges past the tribe's leader (Ken Gambu). Larry insists that this was a bad idea but, having been reminded who's paying his wages, begrudgingly follows the hunters as they embark on the shooting of a few too many elephants.
A short while later, the group sets up camp while their native slaves set about turning an elephant carcass into dinner. Larry - or "Man" as the opening titles more simplistically refer to him as - hears a rusting in the nearby bushes, but it's too late: the tribesmen attack, killing many and dragging the remaining survivors to their village where the elderly chief (Morrison Gambu) can decide their fates.
One is unceremoniously bludgeoned. Another is covered in oils and cooked on a spit - ready to be eaten later. The arrogant businessman gets a satisfyingly grisly comeuppance.
As for Larry? His good nature and unwavering bravery in the face of adversity are rewarded by being the chance to survive. The tribe strip him naked and set him free, allowing him a head-start across the rough African terrains before they come chasing him with their spears.
Can Larry negotiate the unforgiving heat, stay clear of the dangerous animals and stay one step ahead of his pursuers, in order to make it to the safety of an Embassy building several miles away?
He gets off to a healthy start by slaying one of the tribesmen, picking up his handmade shoes, loincloth and machete for use along the way...
Produced and directed by Hungarian-born star Wilde, THE NAKED PREY is a taut, raw and invigorating tale of the human instinct for survival. It's also a great slice of countercultural cinema, pitting the white Westerner against his primitive black pursuers (yes, there's a whiff of naive racism about it all too).
The film is also a visual treat, its widescreen compositions perfectly capturing Africa's magnificence in all its unspoiled glory. The wildlife is present and correct (along with soft stock footage, as was typical of the period ). Animal lovers beware: there are a few scenes of animal-on-animal violence, along with what appear to be very genuine elephant fatalities at the hands of guns.
Cruel, unsparing, realistic action gives the film a contemporary feel, as does the unflagging pace and the almost total absence of dialogue during the final hour.
All in all, THE NAKED PREY is classic cinema and desperately deserves to be rediscovered by a fresh generation of movie watchers.
THE NEW PREY comes to the UK as part of Eureka!'s celebrated Masters of Cinema series (it's number 126, in fact). They're releasing it in a dual-format blu-ray and DVD set. The blu-ray disc is under review here.
The film is presented here fully intact and in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
The 1080p picture is 16x9 enhanced, and looks absolutely magnificent. It's truly astonishing to consider that this film is 50 years old. An extremely clean print has been mastered in HD, giving way to pin-sharp clarity and rich, natural colours throughout. The sun-kissed African plains, deep blue skies and gleaming bronzed flesh tones have never been better-served. The stock wildlife footage is softer, of course - there's nothing that can be done about that, as it comes from inferior sources - but these are few and far between. I can safely say that this is one of the most rewarding HD experiences I've seen in quite some time.
Lossless mono audio is clean and clear throughout. Optional subtitles are provided for the Hard-of-Hearing, but these only cater for the portions of the soundtrack which are spoken in English: there is no translation for the African dialogue. Such is the nature of the film, this isn't needed.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene selection menu.
Bonus features begin with an excellent 31-minute visual essay on the film and its director, courtesy of historian Sheldon Hall. This engrossing piece discusses Wilde's background, his beginnings as an actor of the studio era, and the tribulations of filming entirely on location in Africa. It's good stuff.
As is the film's original, exciting 3-minute theatrical trailer.
Completing this package is a lovely colour collector's booklet. 28 pages in length, this generously illustrated companion piece proffers a reproduction of notes on trapper John Colter, the inspiration behind the film; a mighty fine archive (1970) interview with Wilde where he discusses the film, his love for directing and the themes that drove him to make THE NAKED PREY under such conditions (what an interesting, erudite and political man he was); the usual notes in viewing and DVD credits.
An easy, wholehearted recommendation.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Eureka!|
|see main review|