Preston Foster and Belita star in the 1948 film noir The Hunted, as directed by Jack Bernhard. It finds Foster as a police detective who even after sending his girlfriend to prison for four years, finds that he is still in love with her and she with him when she is released. The problem is that he cannot seem to get past the fact that she is guilty of a crime and perhaps an even larger one. She continues to state her innocence, something she has been doing for four long years, but there is no trust between them and no matter whose fault it is for that divide, they still cannot help but be obsessed with each other.
Foster is incredible in the role of detective Johnny Saxon, a man who gives a forceful performance with Saxon’s feelings bordering between love and duty and that line getting far more blurry with every passing day. Even better and surprisingly so is Belita, a woman who confuses not only the audience, but Saxon with her actions and words. Is she guilty or is she innocent? She breaks into his place after getting out of prison, yet wants the man to believe that she was framed. Time passes, with things just as ambiguous between the two and at the first sign of trouble, she runs. The two have a great chemistry between them, each playing and feeding off of the other, running in circles and toying with each other’s emotions. Each of them seems to know how to get the better of the other and though they do so, that connection is still there. The script by Steve Fisher is a strong one and more so than the plot, while the story is a good one, the movie is about the characters and it is to Belita and Foster’s credit that they make the film as compelling as it is.
Working with Bernhard to give this film the right atmosphere would be cinematographer Harry Neumann, a man who would set the stage so to speak, and create moments both tense and suspenseful. Whether a darkened apartment where the two lovebirds would converse, darkened streets through which Belita would flee or a brightly lit diner where she would hide in plain sight, they would paint the film with mystery and anxiety, stress and apprehension. Coupled with the script and the performances, the movie would be a potboiler of emotion, ready to burst at the seams until it finally breaks to give the leading characters a chance at happiness.
Like many other great film noirs, The Hunted does not solely rely on a crime to keep viewers interested, instead inserting a fatal attraction – a doomed romance as it were, or at least one that seems to be. Also like many, though not all, things manage to work themselves out after a lot of turmoil and the guy gets the girl. While Foster and especially Belita were never the biggest of stars, they put forward their best performances here and make The Hunted a film that will scratch that crime-drama itch.
4 out of 5