MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.
THE HUNT. (1965/1969)
PUBLISHED IN 2022 BY PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’
The screenplay for Michael Armstrong’s THE HUNT was actually written twice, if you please. Once in 1965 as a sort of story-telling exercise to satisfy Michael’s own insatiable desire for learning and self-improvement (and, I daresay, his need to be Always Writing Something, an affliction from which most writers, including myself, suffer!) and again in 1969 with the intention of filming it as a short film of about twenty-five minutes duration.
It could then appear in cinemas accompanying a longer film. There were backers and a wonderful location and no-one was breathing down Michael’s neck trying to stunt his creativity. Happy Days!
He was inspired to write the screenplay after seeing his RADA chum Kenneth Cranham performing a mime of a soldier jumping in to a lake to avoid captivity, then swimming like billy-o, being shot and gracefully sinking to his death in an elegant slow motion.
The 1965 version of THE HUNT is shorter and simpler than the later one. We know straightaway that a young man, no more than a boy, really, is desperately running away from something or somebody, and we get a very real sense of his terror:
He glances behind him,
. . .
For a moment,
Against a tree-
And looks behind him-
. . .
On, he runs-
His face is scared-
It’s impossible not to want to offer the poor young fella a place to hide and a bed for the night with some hot food, especially when we find out that he is being pursued by a trio of determined soldiers.
What do they want him for? I very much doubt if it’s to give him a medal, or the chocolates and fragrant bath oils he lavishes on all his employees! (A Mr. Burns joke from THE SIMPSONS there, forgive me!)
In fact, one gets the disturbing feeling that something very unpleasant is coming down the track for this poor lad, and, even as we urge him on with all our might, things just keep going from bad to worse with him:
Gone are the sounds of the forest-
The hunt is on again-
As panic flashes into his face-
The terror has returned,
As he frantically looks for somewhere,
Anywhere to run-
The THREE SOLDIERS are nearer,
Still at the same steady jogging trot-
Flashing through the forest-
And they follow-
The ending is shocking, and wholly unexpected. I won’t give it away. You’ll have much more fun reading the screenplay and finding out for yourself, hint hint, lol.
The 1969 screenplay has been filled out a good bit so that it could be made, as I said, into a short film of about twenty-five minutes in length. We still have our soldiers in pursuit, but this time we are shown the reason they are pursuing the young man. The chase is on once more, but with one or two little differences, or should I say, additions.
The bit where the young man being pursued meets up with a beautiful young girl and they start laughing and dancing and cavorting all around the meadows and whatnot really speaks to me. Michael, as a posh RADA type, had Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in mind for the music, but, for this scene in particular, I would personally use either of these two pieces of music:
- Men Without Hats; the Safety Dance. (We can dance if we want to, etc.)
- The Turtles: Happy Together.
Michael will probably choke on his posh-person coffee when he reads these suggestions, lol, but I could see them working, I totally could! (It’s the kind of scene you might see in the aforementioned SIMPSONS; a scene where Homer is happily prancing about singing or laughing joyfully, only for it to be revealed that he’s actually asleep at the wheel and about to unwittingly drive off a cliff . . .)
Anyway, things go pear-shaped for the poor young fugitive almost immediately after his brief dalliance with his beautiful maiden:
THREE FIGURES can be seen moving through the trees-
Gone is the silence-
The hunt is on again-
Sets him running frantically-
The THREE SOLDIERS are nearer-
He darts away-
Will the desperate young man ever ‘reach the winning post,’ and ‘the gleaming, prize-winning cup it has to offer,’ or will he go the way of our hero in the 1965 screenplay version? I’ll never tell, but it would be well worth your while to check the story out for yourself.
The foreword of the screenplay book is written by Kenneth Cranham, Michael’s RADA chum who pretty much inspired the whole shebang, and Michael himself has penned detailed, affectionate accounts of what it was like to shoot the 1969 production, which make for fantastic reading:
Michael: My favourite image of that day, however, will always be that of seeing Olive Negus-Fancey (Michael’s backer, whose farmland he was using for the shoot) perched on a tractor, happily ploughing a field.
Aw, wish I’d been there!
By the way, what ultimately happened to ‘the only film I ever shot and edited to my own satisfaction?’ (Michael’s words.) Well, again, reader, you’ll have to read this beautiful, glossy-covered screenplay book to find out.
One last word, though it’s neither Michael’s nor my own.
Q. What three things go to make a great film?
A. The screenplay, the screenplay, the screenplay!
Find out to whom these words are attributed in the book . . .
You can buy this book and all of Michael’s other works as well at the following links: