Bullet Points: The Naked Prey
Some of the movies that I review on this site are terrible. Let’s be honest. I don’t always pick winners but by God sometimes I do. This time, I think that I found a truly incredible movie….for 1960. Fans of movies today might grow impatient with some of the buildup but the tension is incredible and the gore for a film released in 1960 is pretty hardcore. If you really liked the movie Apocalypto, and especially the final act of it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by The Naked Prey.
The Gist: While on safari in Africa, a group of men are attacked by a tribe and executed until only one survives. That man is stripped naked and given a headstart before the men start hunting him. One by one the men attack him as he tries to survive the brutal climate and the wild beasts to make it back to safety.
The Cast: Directed and starring veteran actor Cornell Wilde, The Naked Prey is a tour de force of survival, willpower, and holy shit please don’t hit me with that spear-ness. I haven’t seen too many movies that rely this heavily on one dude but you can tell that Wilde really poured his heart and soul into the film. Wilde was an Olympian in fencing in his younger days and he obviously kept himself and very good shape but for most of the movie he’s running from his pursuers and eating random shit like Bear Grylls.
One thing is for sure, Cornell Wilde was all-in on this film.
The Villain: If Cornell Wilde is the hero of the story then the villains are the African tribesmen who killed his comrades and are hunting him. They’re the same tribe whose land Wilde and his buddies were hunting on. They’re also the same tribe that offered passage to their property if Wilde’s pal paid them a toll of sorts but he denied. I guess what I’m getting at is that to call them the villains is like saying George Custer was a good guy and the Sioux were a bunch of dicks. We know now just how horrible the colonization of Africa was and what a mess the British and other whites made it. That’s not to say that hunting a dude is cool and all but for the purposes of this movie Wilde really does seem like a standup guy and the dudes who are hunting him just cooked a guy in clay pot over a fire and had another dude bitten by a cobra, so yeah, I guess they are the bad guys.
The Action: The fight scenes are particularly brutal for 1960 but nothing that you wouldn’t see on cable these days. When released it was a pretty controversial movie as it depicted the brutality of the tribe and also the white dudes killing elephants and whatnot. Wilde fights back against his pursuers and never second guesses the killing that ensues. I guess when you’re being chased by a bunch of spear-wielding warriors you don’t think twice about sticking a blade through their chest. You can see how this movie inspired movies like Apocalypto and if you liked the final 40 minutes or so of that movie then you’ll dig The Naked Prey. Apparently Joel and Ethan Coen remade this movie when they were kids. That should tell you two things; they watched some serious shit when they were kids, and that they are pretty awesome for choosing this movie to film on their own.
Pretty great stuff for the ’60s.
Take it Home:
- Shabütie: The rock band Coheed and Cambria was originally named Shabütie after the African chant used in the film. Shabütie roughly translates to “Naked Prey”.
- Animal lover: Cornel Wilde was careful not to harm any animals appearing in the film when possible. In a later scene, a monitor lizard and a python fight and when it looked like the lizard was in danger Wilde intervened and was bit on the leg by the lizard. It refused to let go and the crew members had to kill it and evacuate Wilde to a hospital for treatment.
- Cast: Cornell Wilde’s character is simply known as “Man” in the credits although he is called Larry twice early in the film.
- Based on: The script was originally a true historical incident about a trapper named John Colter being pursued by Blackfoot Indians in Wyoming, but lower shooting costs, tax breaks and material and logistical assistance offered by South Africa convinced Cornel Wilde and the other producers to shoot the film there.