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The Last Hunt (1956)

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The Last Hunt (1956)

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The Last Hunt (1956) takes place in the Northwest. The reason is that it concerns the extermination of the buffalo. The mystery as to how this happened cannot be solved rationally. True enough, the cruel slaughter pretty much ruined every single Indian nation economically and spiritually tied to the buffalo. Afterwards, many had to scramble for new food sources, as well as clothing, moccasins, and so much else besides. As it was, however, there were no equivalents. And the key to the solution, in this isolated case, seems to reside in the complex personality of the lead character, Charlie Gibson (Robert Taylor). He cannot see beyond the profitable remuneration for buffalo parts: hide, tongue, tusks, hooves, you-name-it. There was no part of the buffalo that Native Americans did not make use of. Hence, their parsimony compared with the maniacal promiscuity of the invading White.

Charlie is obsessed. He is also a fast gun, a loner, and a man who is all business. He is an accurate rifleman, able to shoot buffalo (presenting a large target and rarely running away) from a long distance. In another setting, he might have been an outstanding leader and an altogether great guy. But opposite him is Sandy McKenzie (Stewart Granger), who also intends to make money, except for the fact that he has a heart. Charlie lacks sentiment, unless it has to do with himself. Sandy falls for an Indian Girl (Debra Paget), with whom he wants to start a ready-made-family. She barely escaped being shot herself (buffalo hunters fail to draw a line once they get trigger happy), and rescued a stray boy, before coming under Sandy's quasi-protection.

Sandy is not the Alpha-Male. That description only befits Charlie. But after a while, he begins to lose his following. When he shoots a white buffalo, filled with sacred meaning for Indians, to realize $2000 for a rare and exceptional hide, not only Indians but Whites start to give him a wider and wider berth. Showdowns make him smile. He has no qualms about shooting anybody. An Indian boy with whom he works tells him to go ahead, do it. Charlie loves picking fights so much he eventually goes after this harmless young man who cannot shoot worth a darn or land a fist. Friendships are easily ended by Charlie, should anyone, such as the Skinner -- who drinks, tells stories, and plays the accordion -- step in his way.

For 1956, this is quite a film of distinction. Not only does it deal with the mindless killing of tens of millions of buffalo, but also with the various other, accompanying levels of inhumanity, too. Sandy stops shooting the defenseless animals. Confronted by a lingering herd, he decides to take a nap rather than accumulate hides. Charlie cannot understand such behavior, and has no tolerance for it. He also likes to bed down with the Indian woman, who has nothing but contempt for him. She cannot respond in kind. "Don't you have feelings like a White woman?" he asks. There is no course in the film except to to allow things to arrange and rearrange themselves according to all the assorted codes, habits, and customs of the West.

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