Death Hunt

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Death Hunt
Promotional poster
Directed by Peter R. Hunt
Produced by Murray Shostak
Written by Michael Grais and Mark Victor
Starring Charles Bronson
Lee Marvin
Andrew Stevens
Carl Weathers
Ed Lauter
Angie Dickinson
Music by Jerrold Immel
Cinematography James Devis
Edited by John F. Burnett
Allan Jacobs
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates June 18, 1981 (Netherlands)
Running time 97 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10 million[1]
Box office $3,050,000 (US/ Canada)[2]

Death Hunt is a 1981 film starring Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Carl Weathers, Maury Chaykin, Ed Lauter and Andrew Stevens. The film was directed by Peter Hunt, and was a fictionalized account of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pursuit of a man named Albert Johnson.

Plot summary[edit]

In the Yukon Territory in 1931, solitary American trapper Albert Johnson (Charles Bronson), comes across an organised dog fight. One of the dogs, a white German Shepherd, is badly injured and Johnson forcibly takes it, paying $200 to its owner, a vicious trapper named Hazel.

Aggrieved by his treatment and claiming the dog was stolen from him, Hazel (Ed Lauter) leads several of his friends to Johnson's isolated cabin. Some begin shooting while others create a diversion. Johnson kills one, Jimmy Tom (Denis Lacroix), after the shooting of Sitka the dog, which Johnson has nursed back to health.

Once they discover that Johnson has bought 700 rounds of ammunition from the local trading post and paid in $100 bills, many conclude that he is the "mad trapper," a possibly mythical, psychopathic, serial-killing figure who supposedly murders other trappers in the wilderness and takes their gold teeth. An old trapper, Bill Luce (Henry Beckman), warns Johnson that the law is coming for him. Johnson fortifies his cabin.

Sergeant Edgar Millen (Lee Marvin), commander of the local Royal Canadian Mounted Police post, seems a tough but humane man. He has a veteran tracker named "Sundog" Brown (Carl Weathers) and a young constable, Alvin Adams (Andrew Stevens), plus a new lover in Vanessa McBride (Angie Dickinson). He reluctantly agrees to investigate Hazel's accusations that Johnson stole his dog and murdered Jimmy Tom.

Millen leads a posse of mounties and trappers to the cabin. He parleys with Johnson, telling him that he has a pretty good idea of what happened and if Johnson comes with him they can get it sorted out. However, before Johnson can answer, one of the trappers opens fire. Several end up killed, including one who is shot by one of his own friends. The posse uses dynamite to blow up the cabin, but Johnson escapes, shooting dead a mountie, Constable Hawkins (Jon Cedar).

Millen, Sundog and Adams, joined by Hazel with his tracker dogs, set off into the frozen wilderness after Johnson. The case has made front-page news across the country, so many trappers also set off after the RCMP, attracted by a $1,000 bounty that has been placed on Johnson's life. Captain Hank Tucker (Scott Hylands), a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, is sent by the government to join the hunt, which is causing a national embarrassment. He reveals that Johnson was a member of a United States Army special intelligence unit during World War I.

Johnson utilizes a number of tracking techniques to avoid Millen's posse and the bounty hunters, living off the land in treacherous winter conditions. As the hunt continues, Millen begins to respect Johnson's uncommon abilities while growing to resent the intrusion of so many outsiders.

Luce comes across two of the trappers camping in the wilderness and shoots them both dead before pulling out their gold teeth. He, it seems, is the real mad trapper.

The pursuers catch up to Johnson. Tucker begins to carelessly machine-gun the area, killing Sundog. The enraged Millen and Adams shoot down the plane with their rifles; Tucker crashes into a canyon wall and is killed. Johnson escapes after killing Hazel.

Luce comes across Johnson and tries to kill him, presumably attracted by the reward. Johnson tricks him and captures him at gunpoint. Millen spots Johnson and opens fire; the bullet hits him in the face, rendering him unrecognisable. As they examine the body, both Millen and Adams spot the real Johnson, dressed in Lusk's clothes, on a ridge above them. The man they shot was Lusk dressed in Johnson's clothes.

The mounties allow Johnson to flee into Alaska, well aware that everything he did was in self-defense. As the other pursuers appear, Adams tells them that Millen has killed Johnson. A trapper finds that the body has a pocket full of gold teeth, so they celebrate the killing of the "mad trapper."


Deviations from history[edit]

The movie bears little semblance to the real story of Albert Johnson. In reality, the actual Constable Millen was shot and killed by Johnson during the manhunt. Johnson was eventually killed after a remarkable and highly publicized pursuit over several weeks. Of special note was the fact that Johnson eluded his RCMP pursuers in the dead of winter in the lower Arctic, crossing the Richardson Mountains in the process, a feat previously considered impossible. Johnson was finally surrounded by mounties on the frozen Eagle River and shot and killed on February 17, 1932.

World War I veteran Wop May was a bush pilot who was involved in the hunt for Johnson. Contrary to the movie, May - represented as "Captain Tucker" - did not wildly shoot at everyone including the posse on the ground. He also did not crash and die on a mountaintop after being shot down by the posse. May survived the manhunt and lived until 1952.

During the siege of Johnson's cabin, in the film at least five men were killed by Johnson, in reality, Millen was the only Mountie killed by Johnson during the manhunt. Two other officers that Johnson shot survived.

In the movie, it was claimed that Johnson was a veteran of the First World War, with Captain Tucker providing Johnson's military service record to Millen and the other RCMP officers. In reality, virtually nothing is known of Albert Johnson before his arrival at Fort McPherson on July 9, 1931. To this day, the Mad Trapper's true identity has never been found.

Home media[edit]

Death Hunt was first released on VHS by CBS/Fox video in the early '80s.

A DVD of the film was released by Anchor Bay Entertainment in January 2005. However, Anchor Bay has since lost distribution rights to the film and the DVD was forced out of print.

Shout! Factory has recently acquired the rights to the film and released it on DVD as a double billing with Butch and Sundance: The Early Days on February 1, 2011.


  1. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p259
  2. ^ Solomon p 235. Please note figures are rentals not total gross

External links[edit]