The Naked Prey

The Naked Prey

3.5 out of 53.5 out of 53.5 out of 53.5 out of 53.5 out of 53.5

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Today remembered mostly as a minor swashbuckler of strapping physique and scant charm, Cornel Wilde deserves more attention as the maker of a series of eccentric pictures that reflect, with an often beguiling bluntness, the personal concerns of the former Olympic fencer turned Hollywood adventure star. Wilde’s most famous film as a director, The Naked Prey offers a vision of survival at its starkest, boiled down to physical endurance, reflexes, and the desperate need to keep ahead of the foe snapping at your heels.

Set in colonial-era Africa—described, in one of the film’s six or seven lines of dialogue, as “the vast, dark unknown”—The Naked Prey stars Wilde as a white safari guide who’s captured by the local tribesmen after the arrogant ivory hunters he’s escorting offend the native chief. His companions are summarily butchered, but Wilde’s character gets “the Chance of the Lion,” stripped down and given a head start in a race for his life with a group of warriors behind him. Basically an extended skirmish, the film plays like a feature-length expansion of Henry Fonda’s dash through the woodlands in John Ford’s Drums Along the Mohawk, and indeed, the lean narrative was inspired by 19th-century trapper John Colter’s legendary escape from the Blackfoot Indians.

It’s easy to pick on the naïveté of this worldview, which seems blind to the racial conflict and colonialist-fantasy implications embedded in the story; better to focus on the force of Wilde’s widescreen compositions, odd cutaways to animals in their natural habitat, and boldly artless editing. Wilde has a hungry eye for harsh landscapes and strong colors, which, coupled with the film’s evocative sound design, forges an obsessive, personal style; he may not feel the need to seek crucifixions like Mel Gibson, but he finds something spiritual in the sheer relentlessness of the journey of his own naked self.

A purified chase film, Naked Prey nevertheless is at its most affecting in the childlike scenes between the main character and a young native girl (played by Bella Randles) he befriends along the way. Theirs is a fragile yet hopeful friendship that Wilde extends across race, age, gender, and language barriers, suggesting that, in an universe designed in terms of predator and prey, compassion is what truly separates human beings from animals.

Image/Sound

Cornel Wilde's blend of primitivism and sophistication fills the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer vibrantly. Colors are better saturated than they were on the Criterion Collection's 2008 DVD, and while grain exposure still varies throughout, the documentary footage of critters devouring each other is much more stable. In terms of clarity, depth, and balance, the sound design—incorporating native chants, drums, and the sounds of animals and flying spears—is practically flawless.

Extras

All of the extras on this Blu-ray release have been ported over from the original DVD. Film scholar Stephen Prince examines Wilde's background as both actor and filmmaker on his commentary, along with details on the grueling nature of the shoot, the submerged symbolism of the hero's trek, and the film's unmistakable influence on Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. "John Colter's Escape," a 1913 record of the trapper's frontier escapade, is adroitly read by Paul Giamatti, while the fascinating soundtrack gets a feature of its own. The theatrical trailer is also included, along with a booklet with a characteristically vivid article by Michael Atkinson and a 1970 interview with Wilde.

Overall

Cornel Wilde's directorial career is ripe for rediscovery. This pure, relentless yarn is a great place to start.

Image 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5

Sound 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5

Extras 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5

Overall 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5 3.5 out of 5

Specifications
  • Blu-ray Disc
  • Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region A
  • Aspect Ratio
  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Dolby Digital Formats
  • English 1.0 Mono
  • DTS
  • None
  • Subtitles & Captions
  • English SDH
  • Special Features
  • Audio Commentary from 2007 by Film Scholar Stephen Prince
  • "John Colter's Escape," a 1913 Record of the Trapper's Flight from Blackfoot Indians—Which Was the Inspiration for The Naked Prey—Read by Actor Paul Giamatti
  • Original Soundtrack Cues Created by Director Cornel Wilde and Ethnomusicologist Andrew Tracey, Along with a Written Statement by Tracey
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • And Essay by Film Critic Michael Atkinson and a 1970 Interview with Wilde
  • Buy
    Blu-ray
    Release Date
    October 2, 2018
    Distributor
    The Criterion Collection
    Runtime
    95 min
    Rating
    NR
    Year
    1965
    Director
    Cornel Wilde
    Screenwriter
    Clint Johnson, Don Peters
    Cast
    Cornel Wilde, Gert Van den Bergh, Ken Gampu, Patrick Mynhardt, Bella Randles, Morrison Gampu, Sandy Nkomo