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The Last Hunt

The Last Hunt(1956)

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The film's opening credits include the following written acknowledgment: "The M-G-M Studio is grateful to the officials of Custer State Park, the U.S. National Monument at Badlands and to Governor Joe Foss of South Dakota for their full-hearted cooperation in the making of this film. The area in which this picture was filmed maintains the largest buffalo herd in America. An annual thinning of the herd is required. We were permitted to photograph this necessary process. The shooting of the buffalo is the assignment of expert government riflemen who worked with us in the filming of the picture."
       According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, despite the above explanation, the Humane Society received some letters protesting the film's buffalo slaughtering scene. Rutherford T. Phillips, the executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the SPCA, responded to the complaints by saying that the slain buffalo had been earmarked for destruction because of their physical condition and were killed by a single gunshot fired by expert marksmen. Reviewers also commented on the brutality of the slaughter scene. The New York Times review described the scene as "startling and slightly nauseating," but added that it was dramatically necessary because the film "aimed to display the low and demoralizing influence of a lust for slaughter upon the nature of man." In addition to the above-acknowledgment, the film includes a written foreword, stating that, due to reckless slaughter "by hunters and Indians," the number of buffalo in America had been reduced from sixty million in the 1850s, to 3,000 in the 1880s, and 500 by 1900. According to modern historical sources, conservation efforts in the second half of the twentieth century has increased the number of buffalo in North America to more than 200,000.
       MPAA/PCA records also indicate that in mid-May 1955, the PCA pressured producer Dore Schary and writer/director Richard Brooks to remove any suggestion that "Charley" rapes the Indian woman, a plot element apparently included in late drafts of the script. An Hollywood Reporter news item on June 8, 1955 stated that actress Liliane Montevecchi was cast as the film's female lead but she was not in the film. Although Hollywood Reporter production charts include Anne Bancroft in the cast, according to news items, illness forced her out of the production. Bancroft was replaced by Debra Paget, who was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for the picture. According to a studio pressbook contained at the AMPAS Library, Joe De Yong, a painter and expert on early western life, designed the hunter and Indian costumes for the film. The pressbook also notes that Gerald Millard, a two-year-old Native American, was reportedly found by Brooks on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation and cast in the picture, as were descendants of Sitting Bull and his followers, who were discovered on the Rapid City and Pine Ridge Reservations. Les Price, the superintendent of Custer State Park, helped organize the location filming, according to the pressbook.
       As noted in Hollywood Reporter news items, the film was shot on location in South Dakota. A June 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that filming would take place at five locations in the Black Hills and one in the Badlands. Four cameras were used to shoot the buffalo stampede, which employed 1,000 animals herded by a flotilla of jeeps and wranglers, according to the pressbook. A July 12, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that David Humphreys Miller, who was hired as a contributing writer for the film would also serve as a technical advisor, dialogue coach and translator for the Sioux Tribe. The news item also stated that he would paint some of the oil sketches used as publicity for the film.