In the early 1800s, a group of fur trappers and Indian traders are returning with their goods to civilization and are making a desperate attempt to beat the oncoming winter. When guide Zachary Bass is injured in a bear attack, they decide he's a goner and leave him behind to die. When he recovers instead, he swears revenge on them and tracks them and their paranoiac expedition leader down.
God Made The World!
Man in the Wilderness is directed by Richard C. Sarafian and written by Jack DeWitt. It stars Richard Harris, John Huston, Prunella Ransome, Percy Herbert, Henry Wilcoxon, Norman Rossington and Dennis Waterman. Music is by Johnny Harris and cinematography by Gerry Fisher.
"1820. The Captain Henry Expedition has completed two years of fur trapping in the unexplored Northwest territory. Determined to reach the Missouri River before the winter snows, the trappers and their boat, towed by 22 mules, struggled through the wilderness. Once on the Missouri they could sail south to the trading posts and sell their precious cargo. What occurred on this expedition is historically true."
He was left for dead. He would not forget.
Essentially, Man in the Wilderness is the redemptive tale of Zachary Bass (Harris). Left for dead by his unfeeling Captain (Huston) after being savaged by a grizzly bear, Bass survives the wilds of nature and the threat of man with revenge firmly on his mind. But as he recuperates and adjusts to the spiritualisation that the surrounds brings him, he looks back at his life and beliefs.
It is undeniably a very slow picture, with dialogue appropriately in short supply, but the atmosphere created is perfect for the unfolding events. Strikingly the film also has a surreal quality that really cloaks the story with considerable impact, where deft touches of imagery land firmly in the conscious. The makers slot in some "bloody" moments, backed with tension, such as the well constructed sequences involving the bear attack and a time when Bass has to scare away two snarling wolves so he "also" can feast off of a stricken Bison. The presence of Indian attacks is handled with care by the director, and in fact helps the finale get away with the expected outcome. While strong moments such as two separate incidents involving rabbits really show the makers to have the best of intentions to tell a valid and interesting story. Especially when it's scenes of just Bass and nature at war.
Narratively, however, it is a bit hit and miss. The pertinent question of faith and the use of flashbacks are an uneasy alliance, mostly because the former drapes the film in predictability, and the latter takes you out of the whole "man in the wilderness" struggle that Bass is luring us into. It renders the film far from flawless which is a shame because it has much to recommend a viewing. The Almería, Andalucía location is used to good effect to pass as the Northwest of America, where quite often Gerry Fisher's photography neatly shifts between beauty and the harshness of mother nature. Harris could do this type of role in his sleep, he isn't asked to stretch himself but still leaves a very favourable impression. Huston is up to scratch, but again he doesn't have to do much, while everybody else are giving performances that any other working actor of the time could have given.
A movie of rewards and frustrations for sure, and it's no Jeremiah Johnson, but this is definitely worth a spin for anyone interested in the "Man Vs Nature" sub-genre of period films. 7/10
Limbridge, Wilderness Films by Richard C. Sarafian, Jack DeWitt.
Stars: Richard Harris, John Huston, Henry Wilcoxon.
Genres: Adventure, Drama, Western
Keywords: trip expedition wilderness fur trapping based on a true story remake revenge native american survival wounded rabbit bear attack fur trade wolves transporting boat
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