As I explained yesterday in my review of the 1935 film version of Les Miserables, one of my resolutions for 2013 is to review a film a day, alternating between films that were nominated for an Oscar and film’s that most certainly were not. Today’s film stars two Oscar winners (Cliff Robertson and Ernest Borgnine) but it was not nominated for any awards itself. Along with being ignored by the Academy, this film is unfairly obscure and has an oddly bad reputation among cult movie fans. The movie is a Canadian exploitation film from 1976 and it’s probably even more relevant today than when it was first made. The name of the film? Shoot.
Rex (played by Cliff Robertson) is a veteran of the National Guard, a respected community leader in his small town, and a man who loves his guns. His house is full of guns of all shapes and sizes and he’s so proud of his military background that the living room even appears to have camouflage style wallpaper. From the film’s opening shots, it quickly establishes that Rex is not comfortable being civilized. The few attempts that he makes to speak to his wife are painfully awkward. Rex only feels truly alive during the weekends that he spends out in the wilderness, hunting with his buddies, played by Ernest Borgnine and Henry Silva. His friends look up to Rex as their leader, to the extent that one of them refers to Rex as being the “senior officer in charge.”
During one hunting trip, Rex and his heavily armed friends pause to rest next to a river. Suddenly, on the other side of the river, another group of heavily armed strangers show up. They stare at each other for a few minutes before suddenly, a shot rings out. The two groups start shooting at each other. One man is wounded and another is killed before Robertson and his group retreat to the security of Borgnine’s cabin.
Instead of going to the police, Robertson convinces his group to keep the incident a secret. They return to town, swearing not to tell anyone about what’s happened. However, Robertson’s paranoia gets the better of him. Before long, he’s convinced himself that the other group is going to seek revenge and that the only way to survive is to kill them first. Along with the hot-headed Silva, Robertson recruits a small army of townsfolk to return with him to the wilderness. Only Borgnine questions the wisdom of Robertson’s plan. The whole thing eventually leads to a genuinely shocking and disturbing climax.
Robertson and his friends are obviously meant to be representatives of American gun culture and to call Shoot heavy-handed would be a bit of an understatement. That said, Shoot is still an undeniably effective piece of propaganda. Robertson, Silva, and Borgnine all give excellent performances and director Harvey Hart manages to generate and maintain a good deal of suspense concerning just what (if anything) Robertson is going to find waiting for him in the wilderness. Though the film has its slow spots, the emphasis on characterization and suspense makes the surprise ending all the more effective.
Shoot is not an easy film to see. It has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray and I only happened to learn of it because I was bored one day and I was flipping through one of my film reference books. However, the film has recently been uploaded to YouTube and here it is: