The Hunters (1958 film)

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The Hunters
The Hunters (1958).JPG
Directed by Dick Powell
Produced by Dick Powell
Screenplay by Wendell Mayes
Based on the novel by James Salter
Music by Paul Sawtell
Cinematography Charles G. Clarke, A.S.C.
Edited by Stuart Gilmore, A.C.E.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • 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 American war film adapted from the novel, The Hunters by James Salter. Produced and directed by Dick Powell, it stars Robert Mitchum and Robert Wagner as two very different United States Air Force fighter pilots during the Korean War.


Major Cleve "Iceman" Saville (Robert Mitchum), a veteran World War II fighter ace, returns to combat, eager to fly an F-86 Sabre fighter. 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 (Robert Wagner). In their first mission, they encounter a flight of MiG-15 fighter aircraft and Pell abandons his element leader, Lieutenant Corona (John Gabriel), during combat to down an enemy fighter. Corona's aircraft is shot up and he is killed while trying to land his damaged jet fighter. 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, if they should run into him, to go one-on-one with "Casey Jones", the most feared enemy ace, whose MiG-15 is marked with "7-11". A disgusted Saville turns him down.

Nevertheless, on a mission soon afterward, Abbott tangles with Casey Jones and is quickly shot down far behind enemy lines. In an ensuing dogfight, Saville manages to shoot down Casey Jones. Low on fuel, Saville orders Pell to return to base, while Saville continues his search for Abbott. Spotting Abbott's parachute, Saville deliberately ditches his aircraft nearby, disobeying standing orders to do everything in his power to get his aircraft back to base. After Saville cuts down an injured Abbott from a tree, they are immediately attacked by a North Korean patrol. Suddenly Pell strafes the North Korean infantrymen and is shot down. The trio then try to make their way through enemy territory 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 and found. As a result, the family members are executed. Saville and Pell avenge the slain family, ambushing and wiping out the patrol, but Saville is shot in the shoulder. Wounded, exhausted, and hungry, the three airmen reach the safety of their lines.

Afterward, Saville and Abbott convalesce in a military hospital. 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 at their marriage. She decides to go with him. Saville and Kristina say their farewells but Saville is distracted as a squadron of jet fighters passes overhead.


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



The flying scenes were principally filmed over the southwest United States in the vicinity of Luke and Williams Air Force Bases in Arizona.[3] Ramp scenes were filmed at Luke while take-offs were staged from Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field, which had the requisite primitive appearance, appropriate mountain backdrops, and where exteriors simulating rice paddies and a gate for Suwon Air Base could be erected.

Operational F-86 Sabre fighters, which were still front line aircraft at the time, were used in the aerial sequences. Although the group portrayed in the movie ("54th Fighter Group") is a fictitious amalgam of the actual units in Korea, the unit markings displayed were those of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, which was based at Suwon until 1954. 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 North Korea 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 the main base where aircraft used in the film were parked and maintained during the production.

With this film, director Dick Powell completed his obligations to 20th Century Fox in his producing-directing contract, having already delivered The Enemy Below (1957).


Considered a lackluster 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. Howard Thompson in his review for The New York Times, noted: "Performed well enough by a pretty good, predominantly male cast, headed by Robert Mitchum, and handsomely produced by Dick Powell, who also directed, the result is a respectable, rather neutrally flavored film that somehow only matters when aloft."[4]

Likewise, reviewer Mark Hassan in a later review, opined, "The real star of the film is the extraordinary aerial cinematography".[5]

According to Charles D. Bright in Aerospace Historian, in comparing and contrasting the novel and the film version, "The plot was changed greatly, and not for the better."[3][Note 1]

Text in opening credits[edit]

"Twentieth Century-Fox wishes to thank the Department of Defense and the United States Air Force for their assistance in the production of this motion picture."
"JAPAN — 1952       at the time of the Korean War"

The Hunters on Turner Classic Movies[edit]

The initial showing of The Hunters on Turner Classic Movies was on June 2, 2015 as part of a four-film salute to the directorial career of Dick Powell.

Introductory comments[edit]

"Hi, I'm Robert Osborne. Thanks for joining us. Right now we're gonna spend some time saluting one of the greats of Hollywood's Golden Age who doesn't often get the attention he deserves. I speak of Dick Powell, but in the hours ahead you're only gonna see his name and samples of his work — you're not gonna see his face. We're gonna focus on a very important period of Dick Powell's career — when he worked strictly behind the camera. Dick Powell, you know, had three very district phases in his film career — when he began making movies in the nineteen thirties, he was one of Hollywood's great crooners — saucy and fun — when he starred in such film musicals as 42nd Street and Footlight Parade. For years, he was under contract to Warner Brothers studios and that was the only type of roles his bosses would allow him to play…. until Dick Powell entered the second phase of his career. In the mid-forties, he did a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn. He stopped crooning, stopped shaving and, in the movie Murder, My Sweet, played the tough-as-nails private eye Philip Marlowe and he began a whole new career as a movie tough guy.

Then, in the fifties, came the third stage for Powell — he moved behind the camera — began producing and directing films with great success. And it's that last phase of his career that we're gonna concentrate on right now. We begin with a TCM premiere, an action film called The Hunters, a war story set in Korea, based on a novel by James Salter, a career military man who eventually sat down at a typewriter and put his great knowledge of war, and those who had to fight those wars, to good use. This story, The Hunters, was the first by Salter to be published and, as for the cast of the movie, you really can't do better. There is, for instance, Robert Mitchum, along with another one of our favorites here at TCM, Robert Wagner. There's also Richard Egan, May Britt, Rachel Stephens and Lee Philips who had just come to everybody's attention as Lana Turner's leading man in the popular movie, Peyton Place. So, from nineteen fifty-eight, one of four films both produced and directed by Dick Powell during his career — The Hunters."

Robert Osborne's closing comments[edit]

"When Dick Powell, who produced and directed this film, first approached Robert Mitchum about starring in it, he didn't have a complete script. What little script he did have, left Mitchum with the impression that he'd get to fly in fighter jet and spend a couple of weeks filming on location in Tokyo. So, he said, 'Yeah, yeah, I'll make it'. Then the script was completed and Mitchum found out that he'd be speeding very little time on a plane, but spending a great deal of time carrying one of his castmates on his back. And, on top of that, the location shooting in Japan got canceled, so no free trip to Tokyo — he still had to carry Lee Philips on his back. Lesson learned — always wait for the completed script before you say yes to making a movie. Up next, Robert Mitchum is directed by Dick Powell again, this time in a World War Two story about a U.S. destroyer on a hunt for a German U-Boat."

See also[edit]



  1. ^ In particular, the characters of Cleve and Abbott have their ages, experience, and inner demons reversed to accommodate the use of Mitchum in the protagonist's role. Moreover, Pell is also rendered as a more sympathetic character, Moncavage as a less sympathetic one, the other wingmen in Cleve's flight are merged into as a single composite character (Corona), and a romantic triangle love interest for Mitchum is invented.[3]


  1. ^ Solomon 1989, p. 251.
  2. ^ Solomon 1989, p. 227.
  3. ^ a b c Bright, Charles D. "The Literary and Historical Legacy, 1947-1987". Aerospace Historian, Air Force Historical Foundation, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, Volume 34, Number 3, ISSN 0001-9364, Fall/September 1987, p. 210.
  4. ^ Thompson, Howard. "Movie Review: 'The Hinters' (1958)." The New York Times, August 27, 1958.
  5. ^ 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.

External links[edit]