Country: United Kingdom
Director: Clive Donner
Starring: Peter O’Toole, John Standing, Alastair Sim, Harold Pinter, Michael Byrne, Mark McManus, Ray Smith
Music: Chris Gunning
Based on the novel by Geoffrey Household
This version of Rogue Male is allegedly a birthday present from Peter O’Toole, to his wife, Sian, based on her favourite novel. I must say it is a strange birthday gift, as this version doesn’t shy away from the brutality at the beginning of Household’s novel. It would seem strange to present a wife with images of her husband bloodied and being beaten to a pulp as a gift. But I guess it is only a film – all make believe, and if it indeed was her favourite book, I am sure she knew what she was in for.
In this version, the un-named hero, is once again given a name, and this time it is Sir Robert Hunter, which I guess is pretty unsubtle – the hunter happens to be named Hunter.
The story starts in a way that should be becoming familiar to those you have being following the posts over the last couple of days. Hunter, is in Germany, and preparing to shoot Adolph Hitler. He is caught at the last moment, and brutally interrogated by the Nazis.
There is a nice little nod to Geoffrey Household, as Hunter is being interrogated. The Nazi Interrogator, played by Michael Byrne describes Hunter, not only as a professional hunter, but the author of a book on hunting called ‘Rough Shooting’. Household himself, wrote a book called A Rough Shoot which was released in 1951. While A Rough Shoot is not as good as Rogue Male, it is still a very entertaining story, with many similar elements to Rogue Male (stay tuned later in the week for a brief review).
Hunter is pushed off a cliff in the attempt to make his death look like an accident. The fall should hide the tell-tale signs of the brutal interrogation – even the ripped out fingernails, can be explained away, by his clawing for a grip as he falls. But Hunter does not die, and although unable to walk, manages to slither to a place of sanctuary, where he can regain his strength.
Hunter then manages to find passage, hidden on a steamer, back to England, where he assumes that his status as an aristocrat, and high-powered friends will protect him. His assumptions are incorrect, and teams of Nazi spies scour the city for him. Among them is a gentleman named Major Quive-Smith.
In this version, Hunter’s reason for the assassination attempt is brought to the fore from the very outset, with sporadic flashbacks, showing the love of Hunter’s life, a radical named Rebecca (Cyd Hayman), being tied to a stake and shot by her Nazi captors. Presenting the reason for Hunter’s actions from the outset slightly diminishes the ‘why’ or ‘how could he’ factor, that both Household’s book, and Fritz Lang’s film version, Man Hunt, both possess. But then I guess, in 1939 (Rogue Male) and 1941 (Man Hunt) Hitler was alive and a world leader. The ‘why’ factor was more important. However in 1976 Hitler was history – and rather unpleasant history. I guess ‘why’ didn’t matter anymore, it was more ‘why not’! Bad luck he didn’t succeed.
The truncating of certain events in the middle of the story make certain scenes redundant, or at the least, make little sense – such as the letter that Hunter receives at the post-office addressed to Professor Farnsborough. It is essential that the character receives the letter, as Hunter’s confrontation with the post-mistress is essential to the next portion of the story. But here, the whole buildup has been removed. Why did Hunter break cover to go to the post-office? Why was he addressed as Professor Farnsborough? As the story stands now, it is a clumsy adjunct that only serves to move the plot along – that is, unless you’re very familiar with Household’s novel and are then able to fill in the blanks for yourself.
I guess that’s the problem that all writers face when they are charged with adapting any written piece (but more so, if it is as well read and highly regarded as Rogue Male). The question is, what do you leave in, and what do you sacrifice? The truth is however, that the screenplay by Frederick Raphael (and edited by Richard Brooke) is pretty good. It covers the beginning and the climax exceptionally well. It is only in the middle, where the story veers into the psychological game of cat and mouse that the script falls flat.
The ending is very well played out, with John Standing as Major Quive-Smith being an excellent foil for O’Toole as Hunter. Overall this is quite an accurate adaptation, but it doesn’t really have the same sense of pursuit, or ‘the hunt’ that it should have. Hunter is rarely seen watching and waiting; being patient, and then knowing how a given beast will react under certain circumstances. In this case, the beast happens to be man. But then again, cinematically speaking, these type of scenes, ‘watching’ and ‘waiting’ don’t make for the most engaging viewing. But despite my misgivings, this is actually a good film – the beginning and the end, nail Household’s Rogue Male.