Comfortable and Furious

Death Hunt (1981)


The not totally appropriately titled Death Hunt is about as much fun as you can have watching a movie. It features our man Charles Bronson, along with Lee Marvin and 80s Action standout Carl Weathers, shooting at each other in the frostbitten mountains of the Yukon for almost a full two hours. What can be better than that? Exactly, nothing. I was actually considering giving Death Hunt the 80s Action treatment, but while it does feature enough guns to give any right-winger a 24-hour hard on, the film is based on a true story and is just too… smart?

By the way, read the link for the “true story” and you tell me if Bronson is not the perfect casting decision. Especially the part about no one hearing him utter a word during the five-week chase. Based off the title alone, sure it deserves to be in the pantheon, but as there is minimal Homoeroticism, no Post-Mortem One-Liners and not even so much as a Stupid Chief, it really is in another class of films.

The year is 1931 and Bronson stars as Albert Johnson, a grizzled loner who only descends into the gritty town of Fort MacPherson once in a great while to pick up supplies. One fateful day, he witnesses a bunch of frozen hillbillies (thanks Kristy) shouting and cheering during a dogfight. One of the dogs is nearly dead, yet the fuckwits refuse to stop the fight. Bronson, of course, stops the fight and even though half a dozen men pull guns on him, his glare is enough to make them not want to shoot, for they know they will surely die.

Bronson then puts the injured dog on his sled and goes to a general store where the only thing he purchases is 700 rounds of ammunition. No food, no clothing, no tools; just bullets. And if you think about it, that’s all that Charles Bronson would ever need. The frozen hillbillies are drunk and pissed so they go up the mountain to Johnson/Bronson’s cabin to kill him for taking the dog. The idiots manage to kill the dog, but Johnson/Bronson shoots one of them through the skull. I should point out that the squibs were pumped up to Robocop levels. Way more blood than necessary, thank the fuck Christ.

The Mountie tasked with bringing Johnson/Bronson in and questioning him, is none other than Lee Fucking Marvin. As Jerry at my video store says, “Anything with Lee Marvin is good.” And how. Marvin is Sgt. Edgar Millen, a broken-down alcoholic shell of a Mountie. Aside from shooting whisky, his concerns in life appear to be cigars, cards and insults. As evidence he tells Constable Adams (Andrew Stevens), the young by-the-book new Mountie in town, “That look on your face would turn good whiskey into sour piss.” Even more telling of his burned-out misanthropy is after nailing none other than Angie Dickinson, she has the gall to ask him if “it” meant anything to him. Millen responds with only, “Oh God woman, please!”

Millen hangs out with Sundog (Weathers), a American transplant who at one point was a great pitcher but on account of him being a Negro, he was never allowed to play in the big leagues even though he could have “pitched that ball down Ty Cobb’s throat.” Their station resembles a drinking club much more closely than it does anything having to do with the law, and Millen is more than content to keep it that way. He doesn’t even care about the dog fighting as it keeps the frozen hillbillies from “killing each other.” However, now that one yokel got shot through the head by Bronson/Johnson, he has to trek up into the hills and bring the man in.

Bronson/Johnson is no dummy, and he knows that the frozen hillbillies are going to return in greater numbers to exact revenge for the death of their friend. So, he does what any of us would do; he turns his cabin into a fortified bunker and begins sawing the barrels off of shotguns. I need to pause for a moment and mention that the scenes where Bronson/Johnson was nursing the dog back to health were not only the sweetest, most sincere moments of Bronson ever captured on film, but they featured the most lines of dialogue I have ever seen the man speak. Now back to the tale; Millen and his Mounties and a gang of local thugs surround Bronson/Johnson’s cabin.

But rather than immediately laying siege, Millen decides to try and negotiate with “The Mad Trapper” (there is a rumor flying around that Bronson/Johnson is the “Mad Trapper,” a mythical being who kills trappers and prospectors for their gold fillings). After a chilly night where Millen explains that although he has to bring Bronson/Johnson in, he has a pretty good idea of what actually happened. Bronson/Johnson is about to relent and allow his lonesome self to be brought into town for a few days. Then one of the frozen hillbillies takes a pot shot at him, and all hell breaks loose. Millen is pissed, but he decides to just let Bronson/Johnson and the idiot townspeople shoot it out.

Quickly, from within side his fortress, Bronson/Johnson wastes about half of the remaining men. Millen has had enough and he decides to blow up the cabin with dynamite. Which he does, but as the remaining frozen fuckwits descend on the rubble, Bronson/Johnson rises like a phoenix, a rifle in each hand, and begins blazing away. It is the film’s most beautiful scene. Bronson/Johnson escapes and a massive manhunt ensues. Rest assured that the chase that follows is both exciting and littered with bodies.

Proving once again that no man in history has had such a single-minded lust for the gun-death of a fellow man, you are left in awe of Charles Bronson and become not one bit surprised that for a time, Bronson was the most popular actor in the world. I won’t spoil any more of the film for you, but I will recommend highly that you track this dusty gem down. For while any movie with Lee Marvin is great, having him be the yin to Bronson’s yang is simply sublime.



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