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  • Benjamin May

Rogue Male (1976) Review

It is 1939, and Europe is on the verge of war. At a manor house deep inside German territory, Hitler is entertaining guests. From the surrounding woodland, Sir Robert Hunter, an Englishman, watches the party through the lens of his sniper rifle. He means to assassinate the Fuhrer, though at the last moment, his plans are scuppered. With his life hanging in the balance, Hunter must summon all his wit and courage to withstand the Nazis’ brutal interrogation methods and plot a daring escape.

Directed by Clive Donner, ‘Rogue Male’ is an exciting, tense made for TV movie based on the novel of the same name by Geoffrey Household, first published in 1939. A gripping thriller, the tale had been previously adapted for screen in 1941, as Fritz Lang’s ‘Man Hunt,’ which starred Walter Pidgeon and Joan Bennett. Closer to the source material than Lang’s version- though still not without differences- it is engaging, with sharp dialogue and a compelling narrative one would be hard pressed to forget.

The film weaves a tale of peril and perseverance, set against the backdrop of a Europe teetering on the brink of war. Frederic Raphael’s screenplay showcases not only the external conflict of a continent on the precipice of international combat but also the internal struggle of a man fighting for his principles. Sir Robert Hunter's character arc is a testament to the human spirit's resilience in the face of overwhelming adversity.

The tension escalates as Hunter, a man out of his element but not out of his depth, uses his ingenuity to turn the hunters into the hunted. His journey is not just a physical one, but also a moral odyssey, as he grapples with the consequences of his actions and the true meaning of justice. In the broader context of war thrillers, Donner’s film distinguishes itself with its focus on psychological warfare and the survivalist aspect of Hunter's journey. It doesn't rely solely on action sequences to build suspense; instead, it crafts a tense atmosphere through character development and the looming threat of discovery.

As Hunter evades his pursuers, the English countryside becomes a character in its own right, with its rolling hills and shadowed woods providing both sanctuary and peril. The cinematography captures the stark contrast between the tranquil beauty of nature and the dark undercurrents of Hunter's flight; which Christopher Gunning’s emotive score compounds. Moreover, Tony Abbott’s production design- as well as John Bloomfield’s costume design- is grittily authentic, lending a weight of realism to proceedings.

Peter O’Toole stars as Hunter, supported by Alaistair Sim, John Standing, Harold Pinter and Michael Byrne. O'Toole's nuanced lead performance is a standout of his career, deftly capturing the essence of a man driven by conviction and haunted by the moral implications of his mission. Sim, in his final film, brings a gravitas to his role as Hunter’s uncle, that underscores the film's serious undertones, while John Standing's work as one of the villains of the piece brims with a witty menace. Similarly, Pinter does fine work as Hunter’s friend and lawyer, while Byrne is excellent as a sadistic jackbooted Nazi- a role he has played numerous times and always to great effect.

Clive Donner’s ‘Rogue Male’ is more than a chase thriller; it is a reflective piece on the choices we make and the paths we take when civilization itself hangs in the balance. Featuring a compelling narrative, witty dialogue and strong characterisation; it has a lot to offer. Boasting fine performances from all in the cast- especially those of star Peter O’Toole and Alastair Sim- as well as an effective score and striking cinematography- it is, in every respect, right on target.


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