Director: George Archainbaud
For good or ill, there's more movie packed into the 70 minutes of Hunt the Man Down (1950) than in your average 3-hour Oscar Bait prestige film. And, I'll argue, this movie is actually entertaining while carrying a message about how things *should* work that seems wildly progressive and cutting edge against decades of cynicism and trying to feel wise by having the lowest of expectations of humanity.
The set up is less than simple. A guy tries to stick up a bar at closing, and the dishwasher stops him and saves the day. The press puts the hero's picture in the paper (against his will), and it turns out he's a guy who was about to be convicted of murder 12 years prior, but he escaped his guard and fled the day before he was sentenced. The cops pick him up and he's set to be retried using the original testimony of the witnesses.
Hearing the story of what transpired the night in question, the public defender (Gig Young) has to go back and find the original witnesses with the assistance of his father, a former cop who is reluctant to help spring a guy.
And, hoo boy, has history happened in the past dozen years. Alcoholism, madness, suspicious coupling, war heroes, puppetry, mysterious deaths and murder. It's just slapping the noir-centric fates button for the witnesses as Gig Young locates each one and determines how their futures hinged on that night.
But what's remarkable is the unshakeable belief the movie has in every man's right to a day in court with vigorous defense. Gig Young isn't even sure his guy didn't do it - but he's going to make sure he does the leg work that didn't happen in the years prior. It's positively wild to see a movie that's not about people with crafty defense lawyers who can bamboozle a juror's box full of rubes and get their guy off and the poor prosecutor who must see justice done. There's a real everyman quality to both Young and his client (and especially Young's dad) that appeals to what everyone should expect, and a recognition that not everyone who winds up behind bars is actually guilty. There's a reason we have a system that's supposed to give you a shot. And even if that system does fail, maybe it's because we bring a lot of baggage in with us as jurors - including the media we watch.
This movie is no 12 Angry Men, but I was shocked how *good* it was for what it was. It uses every moment to push the story forward, it contains almost a dozen characters and you know who all of them are and how they function despite minimal screentime, and manages to get it's point across while being way less soap boxy than I got in the paragraph above. But, hey, that post WWII idealism was not the worst thing in the world.
You can expect a certain level of film - this was the B movie to help fill a double-bill. Not everyone here is star material, but it's not distracting. And we do get Cleo Moore as a brunette, which is not a complaint.
There are plot holes. Why would you stay in the same town where you could run into any number of people who could recognize you? Why - when you were in the paper - wouldn't you sprint out of town? But.
Anyway - worth a watch some time.
If I have a beef - it's that: despite the title, no man is hunted down. The defendant is found by accident. The witnesses just turn up one by one. Like, I get that maybe it's about not treating defendants as prey, but. Sometimes it feels like they just slap a name on these movies.