The Naked Prey
|The Naked Prey|
|Directed by||Cornel Wilde|
|Produced by||Cornel Wilde
|Written by||Clint Johnston
Gert Van den Bergh
|Release dates||14 June 1966|
|Running time||96 mins.|
|Language||English, Afrikaans, Nguni languages|
The Naked Prey is a 1966 adventure film starring Cornel Wilde, who also served as director and producer, which was released by Paramount Pictures. Set in the South African veldt, the film is a wilderness survival story loosely based on the experiences of explorer John Colter, who was pursued by Blackfoot warriors through frontier Wyoming in 1809. The screenplay earned Clint Johnson and Don Peters an Academy Award nomination.
Wilde, whose character is never named, plays a professional guide leading a white man (Gert Van den Bergh) and his troupe on an elephant hunt through the African veldt during the colonial era. When the group intrudes on a local tribe's territory, some natives politely accost them, expecting to be bought off with gifts. Although the guide advises his client to be courteous, warning "they could give us a bad time," the client refuses to offer anything and insults the natives, sending them away empty-handed. Later, the tribe returns en masse, captures the entire party, and puts the captives to death, using various cruel and unusual methods. One man is covered in clay and roasted alive on a spit; another is tarred, feathered, and trussed, then chased and killed by all the women. The man who insulted the tribesmen is trapped in a ring of fire with a poisonous snake.
Wilde's character is spared until the last. He is stripped naked and given a brief head start, then chased by some of the tribesmen. With a combination of luck, cunning, and desperation, he eludes the warriors, killing several; finds food and water; and, after many days, returns to a colonial fort just seconds ahead of his pursuers. As he reaches safety, the man turns and exchanges a salute with their leader (Ken Gampu).
Although the story is violent, there are a few scenes of tenderness and humor after the man is rescued from drowning by an African girl, who travels with him for a day or two. As they walk along, he sings a nineteenth-century drinking song, "Little Brown Jug", and the child sings a song in her own language; they then attempt to sing each other's songs.
Production and critical reception
The Naked Prey was filmed on location in South Rhodesia (today's Zimbabwe). The initial version was set in the American West and more closely resembled the incident that inspired it; however, financial concerns persuaded Wilde to change the setting to Africa.
Wilde was an athlete; he qualified for the Olympics as a fencer in 1936 and remained in excellent condition. However, he was over 52 years old when the movie was shot and was sick during much of the filming, but pressed on, saying the illness added to his performance.
The minimal dialog, richly realized African settings, and emphasis on making "the chase (and violent combat along the way) a subject unto itself, rather than the climax to a conventional story" distinguish Naked Prey as an innovative and influential adventure film. However, although it is considered a small classic today, it received mixed reviews at the time of its release. Robert Alden of the New York Times, reacting to the brutality of some of the early scenes, dismissed the film as "poor and tasteless motion-picture entertainment", but did acknowledge its "authentic African setting" and "effective use of tribal drums and native music." Roger Ebert, taking a different tack, called The Naked Prey "pure fantasy" of the "great white hunter" variety, adding disdainfully: "Sure, it's nice to think you could outrun half a dozen hand-picked African warriors simply because you'd been to college and read Thoreau, but the truth is they'd nail you before you got across the river and into the trees."
Other reviewers, however, were more enthusiastic. In Time, the film was described as "a classic, single-minded epic of survival with no time out for fainthearted blondes or false heroics" where "natives are not the usual faceless blacks but human beings whose capacity for violence the hero quickly matches." The Variety reviewer praised the documentary-style use of nature photography to show "the pattern of repose, pursuit, sudden death and then repose" that characterises the entire chase.
The Naked Prey was released on DVD by The Criterion Collection in January 2008.
The soundtrack consists of African tribal chants, natural sounds, and occasional dialogue, in English and otherwise. There are no subtitles, and incidental music is mostly absent. The film's soundtrack has been available on CD from Locust Music since 2005; it features Nguni tribal songs specifically recorded for the film.
Mel Gibson's film Apocalypto resembles The Naked Prey in its plot and in several similar scenes. The scenario of a man being pursued by a pack of warriors who set out, one by one, after he has reached the point where a loosed arrow fell was seen also in the 1957 film Run of the Arrow.
Likewise, Robert Redford's movie, Jeremiah Johnson has a similar plot line wherein native American tribesmen give chase often singularly to challenge Redford's character (Jeremiah Johnson) to duel to the death. Similarly he signs off with the chief from a distance at the end of the movie.
The progressive rock group Coheed & Cambria was originally named Shabütie after the African chant from the film. Shabütie translates to "Naked Prey".
In popular culture
In the first scene of the Mad Men season 5 episode, "Far Away Places", Abe coaxes a distracted and reluctant Peggy to go see the film with him. His pitch: "You're resisting a chance to see Cornell Wilde naked? I heard he wrestles a boa constrictor. Sounds pretty dirty."
- Survival film, about the film genre, with a list of related films
- The Most Dangerous Game
- Naked Fear
- Dick, Bernard F. "Engulfed: the death of Paramount Pictures and the birth of corporate Hollywood" (p. 105). The University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY (2001). ISBN 0-8131-2202-3.
- Brode, Douglas. Boys and Toys: Ultimate Action-Adventure Movies. Citadel Press, 2003, p. 186.
- Brode, ibid.
- "Naked Prey is Wilde's Minor Classic", The State, October 20, 1989, p. 4D
- Alden, Robert "Screen: 'The Naked Prey': Cornel Wilde Is Chased Through the Jungles", The New York Times, June 15, 1966.
- Ebert, Roger "The Naked Prey", The Chicago Sun-Times, June 14, 1967.
- "Man Hunt" (review). Time, June 17, 1966.
- "The Naked Prey" (excerpt of 1966 review), Variety ((full text)
- Crumshaw, Michael. "Review of Cornel Wilde's The Naked Prey (soundtrack)." Dusted Magazine, June 13, 2005 (full text)
- Gods of Film-making, "Joel and Ethan Coen" (full text)
- Commentary to The Naked Prey, The Criterion Collection DVD.