The Naked Prey & r & & r & by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Criterion Collection is a line of DVDs where Important Films go after they've died at the box office. Having exhausted most of the world's legitimate classics, Criterion has now started scraping the bottom of the art-house barrel. Among the series' earnest-yet-flawed finds is 1966's The Naked Prey. Based on an 1808 account of a man who was captured by Blackfeet Indians and given a chance to run for his life, The Naked Prey migrates the story to Africa, where, after offending a local tribe, a safari party is captured and tortured. Only the guide is left alive to flee from the tribe's best hunters.
It's a strong setup, and the tribal scenes are adequately unnerving -- the villagers' speeches are not translated, leaving the viewer to witness the captives' fates (roasting alive, enduring snakebites) with as much helpless incomprehension as the victims. It falls apart, however, as the film's director, Cornel Wilde (who also plays the safari guide), lards the movie with what look to be public domain films of wild animals hunting, attacking and eating each other. This Wide World of Disney-grade nature footage contrasts sharply -- in the technical domains of sound, light and film stock -- with the movie's dramatic episodes.
The film draws the story out even further by having the naked prey (quite obviously wearing flesh-colored briefs) attack some of his hunters, spilling latex blood on the African landscape, and giving him clothing and equipment. Further reducing the tension, Wilde tries to add emotion to the film through the guide's friendship with a young boy whom he rescues from a neighboring village. The man and the boy form a partnership that's almost as groan-worthy as the relationship between the hunter and the hunted, who exchange sentimental hand-waves.
Even the Criterion Collection seems half-committed to this project: The film's transfer to DVD preserves errant hairs and specks of dust, and the soundtrack has not been remastered. The volume ranges from too soft to too loud, often changing abruptly during a sequence of shots. It's the sort of technical ineptitude that Criterion rarely displays, and instead of saving the film from obscurity, it's likely to keep The Naked Prey a backwash curiosity for another 40 years. (Not Rated)