The Scalphunters

Watch The Scalphunters

""I'M JOE BASS and I say that scalphunters are the most ornery, girl-grabbing, back-stubbers on earth. I HUNT SCALPHUNTERS!""
  • NR
  • 1968
  • 1 hr 42 min
  • 6.7  (4,230)

In 1968, the western genre was still going strong, with The Scalphunters serving as a gritty, humorous and thought-provoking example of why the genre was so beloved. Directed by Sydney Pollack, the film starred Burt Lancaster as Joe Bass, a mountain man who makes a living trapping beavers in the American West. His life is forever changed when he comes across a band of Kiowa Indians who have just stolen a cache of rifles from a group of scalp hunters. Soon enough, Bass finds himself in possession of the rifles - and a beautiful Kiowa woman named Two Crows (played by Ossie Davis's wife Ruby Dee) - and must fend off both the vengeful scalp hunters and the Kiowa themselves.

The film's opening credits sequence sets the tone for what's to come: a moody, evocative theme song by Quincy Jones (sung by soul legend Ray Charles) accompanies shots of Lancaster's character traversing the beautiful but treacherous countryside. The film takes a while to introduce its main players, allowing the viewer to take in the sweeping vistas and rugged terrain of the Wild West. When the action finally kicks in, it's fast-paced and brutal - the scalp hunters are a particularly nasty bunch, and their leader, Jim Howie (Telly Savalas), is an oily, manipulative character who tries to coerce Bass into handing over the rifles.

Bass is a likeable protagonist - grizzled and tough as nails, but with a sly sense of humor and a sense of morality that makes him stand out from the typical western hero. His interactions with Two Crows are particularly interesting - the film takes pains to show that they're not just a stereotypical "Indian princess" and "white savior" pairing. Two Crows is a strong, independent character who has her own reasons for sticking with Bass, and their tentative friendship provides some of the film's more touching moments.

Shelley Winters, in a minor but memorable role, plays Kate, a loud-mouthed saloon owner who ends up crossing paths with Bass several times throughout the film. Winters is as brassy and over-the-top as ever, but there's a vulnerability to her character that makes her more than just comic relief. She has her own tragic backstory that's only hinted at, and her interactions with Bass provide a welcome respite from the film's more violent moments.

The Scalphunters is a unique western in that it balances action with comedy and social commentary. The film doesn't shy away from the ugly realities of the era - racism and violence are a constant presence - but it also uses humor to underscore the absurdity of the situation. One standout scene involves Bass and Two Crows trying to outsmart a group of scalp hunters by staging a mock Indian attack, complete with makeshift war paint and badly-played flutes. It's a bit silly, but it also shows how Bass and Two Crows are able to manipulate the expectations of the white men around them.

Ultimately, The Scalphunters is a film about survival and friendship in an unforgiving world. Lancaster and his co-stars are all excellent, and the film's message of unity and respect between different cultures is as relevant today as it was in 1968. Fans of the western genre will find much to enjoy here, as will anyone looking for a well-crafted, intelligent action film. The Scalphunters is a true classic, and one that deserves to be rediscovered by a new generation of filmgoers.

The Scalphunters is a 1968 comedy with a runtime of 1 hour and 42 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.7.

The Scalphunters
Where to Watch The Scalphunters
The Scalphunters is available to watch free on Tubi TV. It's also available to stream, download and buy on demand at Amazon Prime, Apple TV Channels, Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube VOD and Vudu. Some platforms allow you to rent The Scalphunters for a limited time or purchase the movie and download it to your device.
  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 42 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    6.7  (4,230)