Rogue Male (1976)
My insomnia persists (hooray!) which means I’m up all night, and then during the day I feel like a wreck. As I usually do, I am using the non-required waking hours to do a little work, and then to catch up on watching movies.
So last night I tried to take a look at Tomb Invader, then after ten minutes I decided there are better ways to waste my life, and so I dug out two oldies: Orca, the Killer Whale and Rogue Male.
I also thought I’d do posts on both.
Let’s start with the latter.
Rogue Male is a 1976 BBC-produced movie featuring Peter O’Toole, and based on the novel of the same name by Geoffrey Household. Both are highly recommended.
The premise of the Household novel is, a guy tries to kill Hitler.
Now in the 1939 novel the target of the unnamed protagonist remains equally unnamed, but it’s easy to make 2 + 2, all things considered.
The author had his say on the thing…
“Although the idea for Rogue Male germinated from my intense dislike of Hitler, I did not actually name him in the book as things were a bit tricky at the time and I thought I would leave it open so that the target could be either Hitler or Stalin. You could take your pick.”
So, let’s try it again – a man, a sportsman and hunting enthusiast, gets Hitler in his sights during a “hunting trip”, but decides not to shoot. The Gestapo (once again, by inference) catch him, torture him and leave him for dead, but he survives and returns to England. When his enemies find out he’s still alive, the hunter becomes the hunted, and the protagonist retreats to the countryside, living in the wilderness. He will confront his counterpart – another upper-class hunter – in a duel for survival.
The novel is one of the great classics of adventure and espionage, and a great read. I did read it after I caught the movie on the telly, in 1980 or thereabouts.
The movie is a faithful adaptation of the novel, and was directed by Clive Donner hot on the heels of his less-than-successful Vampira.
The book had been actually filmed once before – in 1941, by Fritz Lang, starring Walter Pidgeon and George Sanders1 – but the BBC production is equally high-class, and Peter O’Toole named it as his favorite movie.
Peter O’Toole as sir Robert Hunt (nomen-omen) shoots Hitler but misses (a small but significant change), and becomes first the subject of the attentions of the Gestapo, and then a man on the run.
At certain moments quite brutal, the movie is a tense thriller with a nice philosophical core that balances the action and the violence. The core of the novel and the movie is the survival in the wilderness of a highly-competent huntsman – and indeed Household’s book is a classic in the sub-genre, and was an inspiration for the other great classic, David Morrell’s First Blood, later filmed as Rambo.
The main character is a man that, cornered and trapped, must balance savagery and culture to survive and in this sense the story seems to tell us that if going wild is a good way to temporarily escape our enemies, in the end it is our knowledge, reason and civilization that will save us.
Deceptively simple, tense and claustrophobic despite it being set for the most part in the British countryside, Rogue Male is a great yarn, and both a must-read and a must-see. And don’t just take my word for it…
The movie, curiously enough, was part of the 1976 BBC Christmas programming.
Things were really different back then.