The Hunters (1958 film)

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The Hunters
The Hunters (1958).JPG
Theatrical poster
Directed by Dick Powell
Produced by Dick Powell
Written by Wendell Mayes
James Salter
Starring Robert Mitchum
Robert Wagner
May Britt
Music by Paul Sawtell
Cinematography Charles G. Clarke
Edited by Stuart Gilmore
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s)
  • August 26, 1958 (1958-08-26) (New York City)
Running time 108 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,440,000[1]
Box office $2,100,000 (U.S. rentals)[2]

The Hunters is a 1958 feature film adapted from the novel The Hunters by James Salter. Produced by Dick Powell, it stars Robert Mitchum and Robert Wagner as two very different United States Air Force fighter pilots in the midst of the Korean War. ""The plot was changed greatly, and not for the better."[3]


Major Cleve "Iceman" Saville (Mitchum) is a veteran World War II fighter ace eager to fly an F-86 Sabre fighter in the Korean War. His commanding officer, Colonel "Dutch" Imil (Richard Egan), assigns him command of a flight.

Among his pilots is a new replacement, talented, but brash Lieutenant Ed Pell (Wagner). After he abandons his element leader, Lieutenant Corona (John Gabriel), during combat to down an enemy fighter, Corona's aircraft is shot up; he is killed while trying to land. As a result, Saville wants Pell assigned to someone else, but Imil overrules him; Pell was top of his class in flight school and Imil sees him as a younger version of Saville. If anyone can get Pell to grow up, it is the major.

Another pilot under Saville's command, Lieutenant Carl Abbott (Lee Philips), poses a different kind of problem. He lacks confidence in his abilities; his worried wife Kristina (May Britt) asks Saville to watch over him. Saville falls in love with her, and vice versa. Aware of the situation, Abbott offers Saville a deal: his wife in return for the opportunity to go one-on-one with "Casey Jones" (an uncredited Leon Lontoc), the most feared enemy ace, whose MiG-15 is marked with "7-11", if they should run into him. A disgusted Saville turns him down.

Nevertheless, on a mission soon afterwards, Abbott tangles with Casey Jones and is quickly shot down far behind enemy lines. In an ensuing dogfight, Saville downs Casey Jones and, resisting the temptation to abandon the wounded Abbott, spots his parachute and ditches his aircraft nearby, disobeying standing orders. Pell strafes the North Korean infantrymen closing in and is shot down himself. The trio then make their way back to safety.

Along the way, they are assisted by a friendly Korean farmer (Victor Sen Yung) and his family. When a North Korean patrol happens by, the Americans hide, but in their haste, a jacket is left behind. As a result, the family members are executed, but Saville and Pell avenge them.

Afterward, Abbott is to be transferred back to the U.S. to recuperate. His brush with death has changed his priorities; he remorsefully asks Kristina for another chance. She decides to go with him.


As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified):[4]

Actor Role
Robert Mitchum Major Cleve Saville
Robert Wagner Lieutenant Ed Pell
Richard Egan Colonel Dutch Imil
May Britt Kristina "Kris" Abbott
Lee Philips 1st Lieutenant Carl Abbott
John Gabriel 1st Lieutenant Corona
Stacy Harris Colonel Monk Moncavage
Victor Sen Yung Korean farmer
Candace Lee Korean child
Aki Aleong MiG Pilot (uncredited)
John Doucette Chief Master Sergeant
Nobu McCarthy Japanese Clerk (uncredited)
Rachel Stephens Nurse (uncredited)
Kam Tong Red Chinese Officer (uncredited)


The flying scenes were principally filmed over the southwest United States in the vicinity of Luke Air Force Base and Williams Air Force Base.[5] Operational F-86 Sabre fighters, which were still front line aircraft at the time, were used in the aerial sequences. The crash footage of an F-100 Super Sabre was used in one scene to represent the attempted landing of an F-86. USAF F-84F Thunderstreak fighters were painted with Communist Bloc paint schemes and insignia to portray enemy MiG-15s. A C-130A Hercules was used as an aerial photography platform. Palm Beach AFB, Florida was used during the production as the main location where aircraft used in the film were parked and maintained.

With this film, director Dick Powell completed his obligations to 20th Century Fox in his producing-directing contract, having already delivered The Enemy Below.


Considered a lacklustre war drama, The Hunters did not fare well with critics, although most audiences saw it as a widescreen epic. Director Dick Powell strove to create an authentic "look" with carefully set up scenes focusing on military personnel and the jet fighter operations that underlined the main action scenes. Reviewer Mark Hassan noted, "The real star of the film is the extraordinary aerial cinematography".[6]



  1. ^ Solomon 1989, p. 251.
  2. ^ Solomon 1989, p. 227.
  3. ^ Bright, Charles D., "The Literary and Historical Legacy, 1947-1987", Aerospace Historian, Air Force Historical Foundation, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, Fall/September 1987, Volume 34, Number 3, ISSN 0001-9364, page 210.
  4. ^ "The Hunters (1958) Full credits." IMDb. Retrieved: October 17, 2011.
  5. ^ Bright, Charles D., "The Literary and Historical Legacy, 1947-1987", Aerospace Historian, Air Force Historical Foundation, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, Fall/September 1987, Volume 34, Number 3, ISSN 0001-9364, page 210.
  6. ^ Hassan, Mark. " 'The Hunters' Review." JQEK DVD Review, 2006.


  • Dolan Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies." The Making of the Great Aviation Films. General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorn, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
  • Salter, James. The Hunters.New York: Bantam Books, 1956.
  • Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  • Tomkies, Mike. The Robert Mitchum Story: "It Sure Beats Working". New York: Ballantine Books, 1972. ISBN 978-0-49100-962-1.

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