Ralph “Papa” Thorson

Created by (presumably) Mr. and Mrs. Thorson

“I’m getting too old for this shit.”

Not a fictional creation, though his biography unravels like one. The Hunter was a 1980 fact-based action/adventure flick starring the late, great Steve McQueen (in his last role) as real-life bounty hunter RALPH “PAPA” THORSON.

Thorson, famed as “the Greatest of the Skip-Tracers,” had already been featured in a book by Christopher Keane. The exploits recounted in the book formed the basis for the film, and McQueen added his own unique, quirky style to bring Thorson to celluloid life. Thorson himself even appears in one scene –as a bartender. It’s no surprise that Thorson and McQueen bear absolutley no resemblance to one another. The real-life Thorson was a massive bear of a man as opposed to the reel-life Thorson being a trim, nimble man of action, ably portrayed by McQueen in one dramatic–and occasionally humorous–episodic chase scene after another.

The film also stars Katherine Herrold as Thorsons long-suffering wife and Eli Wallach as Thorson’s bail bondsman boss. A very young Levar Burton appears as a hapless bail jumper Thorson takes a liking to.

A fun and interesting movie, The Hunter serves as a good primer on the modern Bounty Hunter`s M.O.

See this, and the comedic Midnight Run, featuring Robert DeNiro, and you have all you need to know about the professional skip tracer trade (circa 1980), which combines the investigative skill of a P.I. and the mercenary angle of the average lawyer, with gun-pointing zeal of the NRA mixed in for good measure.

And if you decide you’ve developed a taste for all things Thorson, check out The Huntress, a USA Network TV show relating the fictionalized events of Thorson’s widow and daughter, who carried on the family business.


  • “Certainly not as good as it should be, The Hunter’s a messy collection of seemingly random action scenes and set pieces that occasionally work (but often don’t), while at other times it just looks more like a cheesy TV pilot cranked out to fill a time slot. Still, somehow it clings together, offering—despite itself–a surprisingly touching character study of a man who is indeed getting ‘too old for this shit.’ The fact McQueen’s clearly not in the best of health at times just adds a layer of undeniable poignancy to this, his final film. I just wish everyone had taken a little more time with it. McQueen deserved better for his last go round.”



  • HUNTER | Buy this video | Buy this DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray | Watch it now!
    (1980, Paramount /Rastar Pictures)
    97 minutes
    Tagline: He’s not as fast as he used to be… That’s what makes him human. He’s a bounty hunter… And that’s what makes him dangerous.
    Based on the book by Christopher Keane and Ralph Thorson
    Screenplay by Ted Leighton and Peter Hyams
    Directed by Buzz Kulik
    Music composed by Michel Legrand
    Produced by Mort Engleberg
    Starring Steve McQueen as RALPH “PAPA” THORSON
    Also starring Eli Wallach, Kathryn Harrold, LeVar Burton, Ben Johnson, Richard Venture, Tracey Walter, Thomas Rosales Jr., Teddy Wilson , Ray Bickel, Bobby Bass, Karl Schueneman, Mary Margaret O’Hara


Respectfully submitted by Mike Harris.

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