THE NAKED PREY
Review by Gordon Justesen
Wilde, Ken Gampu, Gert Van Den Bergh
Director: Cornel Wilde
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Cornel Wilde has by far one of the more interesting careers in Hollywood. He was first a professional fencer who was set to compete in the 1936 Olympics, only to quit the team to take a role in a stage play. This led to a prominent career in acting, as well as a few directorial efforts.
One such effort was 1965‘s The Naked Prey, a loose adaptation of John Colter’s story “Escape”. The film was entirely shot on location in Africa, considered a rare feat at the time. Most of Wilde’s directorial efforts dealt with the violent nature of man, none more so than this entry.
Wilde is also the lead in the film, credited only as “Man”. He is the leader of a group of safari hunters in West Africa. They are approached by a local tribe that requests gifts before they pass through onto their land, only to be humiliated by the organizer of the hunt.
Eventually, the tribe retaliates by taking the hunters captive and killing most of them. Wilde’s character is the last of the hunters remaining. The chief of the tribe has him stripped of his clothes and set loose in the jungle to be hunted for sport.
And thus we are thrust into a most unrelenting account of one man’s fight for survival, all of which is executed with phenomenal top flight filmmaking by Mr. Wilde. There is barely any dialogue in the entire film, which is why there is no quote opening this review. In addition to practically overseeing the entire production, Wilde also puts himself through immense physical torture, and neither a stunt man or stand in is on display at any point (there’s a close call moment where Wilde narrowly misses a spear flying in his direction). Wilde was also quite ill during most of the production, something which he thinks added a good bit to his performance.
Aside from a few awkwardly inserted shots of obvious nature stock footage, this is a flawless illustration of pure adventure filmmaking. And with Wilde taking full advantage of widescreen Panavision, the landscapes of Africa are captured even more so beautifully. Every step of the way, as the lead character eludes his pursuers, you feel both the beauty and brutality of the setting.
As far as double duties go regarding acting and directing, The Naked Prey represents one of the most impressive feats I’ve ever witnessed. Though Cornel Wilde was never mentioned in the same breath as Orson Wells, what he was able to achieve here is just as monumental as any of Wells’ ground-breaking work. And as far as effectively capturing Africa on film, this is one of the best examples out there!
Criterion’s Blu-ray release is most astounding in its video presentation. The African landscape is captured in breathtaking form. As you can probably gather, the film is entirely shot in outdoor settings and in the sun-baked daylight, with a few night time scenes as well. The daylight sequences are especially grand, and the widescreen camera work shows off even more rivetingly in the 1080p.
This is one of the more impressive Mono mixes Criterion has ever delivered. There is quite a bit of action and physicality on display here, all of which is captured in a most effective form. Occasional music playback is very well handled, as well!
Included on this Criterion Blu-ray is a commentary from 2007 with film scholar Stephen Prince, as well as a reading of “John Colter’s Escape,” a 1913 by actor Paul Giamatti. There are also original soundtrack cues created by director Cornel Wilde and ethnomusicologist Andrew Tracey, along with a written statement by Tracey, a Trailer and an insert booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson and a 1970 interview with Wilde.
The Naked Prey is a truly fascinating piece of adventure filmmaking. Cornel Wilde pulled a phenomenal case of double duty on this violent look at the nature of man. The African setting is terrifically used and realized, and beautifully captured in this Criterion Blu-ray release!