Tuesday, December 04, 2007


I’ve been leafing through Bogarde’s several volumes of autobiography for a reference to ‘Hunted’, but the great man seems to have had nothing to say about it. Not surprising, really; of the eight autobiographical works he penned, the first (‘A Postillion Struck by Lightning’) only touches on his film career in its closing pages, while a subsequent volume, ‘Great Meadow’ returns to the main concerns of ‘Postillion’ – a nostalgic evocation of Bogarde’s childhood. Other instalments focus on the later, European films under directors like Visconti, Cavani and Fassbinder. Of the decade and a half of British films that made him a star, Bogarde says very little, other than to credit ‘The Blue Lamp’, ‘Victim’ and ‘The Servant’ as milestones in his development as an actor.

John Coldstream, in his biography, calls ‘Hunted’ an “unpretentious drama … notable for its understatement”. True, true. But talk about damning with faint praise! Okay, I’ll admit it: ‘Hunted’ is minor league Bogarde. But it’s still a terrific little movie, with much to enjoy and a memorable ending (advance warning: PLOT SPOILER AHEAD).

Briskly directed by Charles Crichton – the man behind perennial Ealing favourites ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’ and ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’, and who proved he could still chalk up a mainstream success at the age of 78 with ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ – from a script by Jack Whittingham, ‘Hunted’ opens with a six year old boy, Robbie (Jon Whiteley), running away from his step-parents’ house after accidentally setting fire to the kitchen curtains. He blunders into the cellar of a deserted, bombed-out building (Eric Cross’s cinematography makes excellent, noir-style use of post-war London) where Chris Lloyd (Bogarde) crouches over the body of a local businessman. He’s just made the rashest mistake of his life. Panicking, he grabs the boy, less as a hostage than concerned that he’s a witness, and flees.

The first half of the film charts Lloyd and Robbie’s flight from London – but not before Crichton has staged a tense sequence in which Lloyd, evading a police cordon, breaks into his own apartment to get a stash of money that will sustain the two of them during their exodus. Things sag a little here with the introduction of Lloyd’s slatternly wife Magda (Elizabeth Sellars, giving a hammy, one-note performance), but then Lloyd and Robbie are back on the run and things pick up no end.

The further they travel, the deeper the relationship between fugitive and child. A perfectly timed scene has them fetch up at a B&B en route to Lloyd’s brother’s house in a small Scottish fishing village. Robbie begs Lloyd to tell him a bedtime story; Lloyd obliges, making up a tall tale about a giant. Part way through, the story segues into a confession as Lloyd helplessly recounts his wife’s infidelity with her affluent boss and his subsequent actions. Unlikeable at first, Lloyd emerges as all-too-human.

Betrayed by his wife, turned away on arrival at his brother’s, Robbie is by now Lloyd’s only friend in the world. And vice versa. Lloyd has found out about Robbie’s maltreatment at the hands of his step-family. Taking the boy with him, Lloyd makes a last gamble for freedom, stealing a fishing boat and setting out for Europe. Then Robbie falls ill. Bogarde’s acting here is spot on – the sense of frustration is palpable. He berates the lad (“You can’t be ill! Not now!”); he storms back above decks to take the wheel again; an internal battle plays out on his face; his knuckles whiten around the wheel. Finally, he wrenches the vessel around and sails back to port. A mob of angry townsfolk line the jetty, waiting for him. The police arrive just as he walks slowly and heavily up the harbour steps, Robbie feverish and barely conscious in his arms.

It’s a moralistic ending, certainly – Lloyd ‘doing the right thing’ even though it means his arrest – and more or less obligatory in British cinema of that era (villains, even sympathetic ones, weren’t allowed to get away with it; other examples: Alec Guinness going quietly at the end of ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’, Jack Hawkins and co. bundled into the police van in the closing frames of ‘The League of Gentlemen’). But it works. And it works because Bogarde is so convincing.

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