Broken Lance

Remakes have popped up here from time to time in the past and they often divide opinion among movie fans, not only based on their relative merits but also on whether there’s any point in producing them at all. For me, the best remakes, or at least the more interesting ones, try to do something different with the material. For example, the casting may radically alter perspective, or the source material (say, a novel which has been adapted) might be adhered to more faithfully. Shifting from one genre to another – which I feel was successfully achieved with High Sierra and Colorado Territory – is another potentially fruitful option. And this leads me to Broken Lance (1954), which essentially recycles Philip Yordan’s screenplay for House of Strangers and transposes the action from New York to the old west.

Newly released from prison, Joe Devereaux (Robert Wagner) is “invited” to the governor’s office in town to be presented with a proposition. His three brothers – Ben, Mike and Denny (Richard Widmark, Hugh O’Brian and Earl Holliman) – aren’t exactly thrilled to meet him and instead offer a ranch in Oregon and $10,000 in cash, on condition he catches the next train out of town. At  this stage it’s unclear to the viewer why Joe’s siblings are so keen to see the back of him, or why he so contemptuously deposits the proffered money in a spittoon. It’s only after a ride across the vast, open country to the now abandoned family home that the pieces begin to fall into place. As Joe stands amid the dust-choked remnants of his old life, staring at the huge portrait of his now deceased father, his thoughts drift back to earlier days. We see Matt Devereaux (Spencer Tracy), the gruff Irish patriarch who has tamed a land and is now doing his level best to tame his four sons. Joe is the youngest and his favorite, born of his Indian wife (Katy Jurado), while the others are the product of an earlier marriage. That Mike and Denny are bad apples is immediately apparent when they’re caught attempting to rustle cattle from their own ranch, and Ben’s resentment is seen to be simmering close to the surface as well. The main theme – although it’s by no means the only one – is that of fractured family relations. As the boys have grown into men and the frontier is similarly maturing, the cracks within the Devereaux clan are starting to show. The old man, while not without charm, is of that hard, pioneering breed accustomed to enforcing their will with a six-gun, a whip or a rope. However, times move on and priorities alter along with them. Ben feels that progress requires a change in the way the family business is run, yet he lacks the courage to face down his father directly to effect that change. So there’s tension in the air, but it really only comes to a head when pollution leaking from the local copper workings leads Matt into violent confrontation with the miners. Sadly, from the aging rancher’s perspective, frontier justice has no place in this new world where corporate interests are beginning to assert themselves. With the prospect of a lengthy prison term for his father looming, Joe offers to shoulder the blame as his brothers shirk the responsibility one by one. What ought to have been a nominal sentence turns into a long stretch though as Ben flat refuses to pay the hefty compensation demanded. The result is the exposure of all the old wounds and ultimately the disintegration of a family.

Edward Dmytryk couldn’t be said to be a western specialist yet he made a couple of very strong entries with this one and Warlock. One thing that’s apparent right from the opening credits is the director’s comfort with the wide CinemaScope ratio. Dmytryk’s use of the wide lens (though cameraman Joe MacDonald deserves credit here too) to capture the sense of enormous, uncluttered spaces is quite awe-inspiring at times; it contrasts nicely with the packed interior scenes in town, and neatly highlights the restrictive nature of the advance of progress. This aspect is further highlighted during the trial sequence, where Matt Devereaux, formerly at ease and supremely confident out on the range, alternately squirms and blusters on the stand. Of course it’s also a tribute to Tracy’s acting skills that this works so well. He was arguably the greatest of all naturalistic performers, reacting as opposed to acting. His irascible bravado has an undercurrent of twitchy nervousness, he moves uncomfortably in his chair under the disapproving glare of prosecutor and judge, and is in sharp relief to his earlier scenes where he’s “holding court” in his own home. What we have is a man out of time, or almost, becoming increasingly limited by both the law and his own physical frailty, just as the frontier itself is slowly withering in the face of encroaching civilization.

In a sense, westerns represent an opportunity to dip into the past, to catch a glimpse of an era now gone and existing as no more than a memory. Broken Lance actually mirrors this within its narrative structure, by means of the long central flashback. As viewers we’re invited to take a trip to yesteryear via images on a screen, and Joe Devereaux does something very similar before our eyes; as he gazes upon the imposing portrait of his late father he finds himself transported back to the days and weeks leading up to his imprisonment. Characters pass comment on how much Joe has changed after his incarceration, and I feel Wagner did highly creditable work in the movie. There is a noticeable difference in both his bearing and attitude in the contemporary bookend sequences and the flashback. Wagner isn’t often praised for his acting but I reckon he quite successfully makes the transition from fresh-faced enthusiasm to bitter maturity over the course of the film’s 90 minutes. No doubt the fact he was up against such heavyweights as Tracy and Widmark helped him up his game. Widmark though seems to have little to do for long stretches, really only coming into his own in the final third. His discontented elder sibling is always there as a brooding sideline presence, but the full effects of the denial of parental trust and affection only break through gradually. When the explosion finally comes we’re treated to vintage Widmark – all snarling hatred and half-repressed racism.

The racial matter is never entirely to the fore in the film, although it is of significance and always lurks just below the surface. The difficult legal position in which Matt Devereaux finds himself is at least partly exacerbated by his marriage to an Indian, and then there’s the prejudice the Governor (E G Marshall) cannot overcome at the thought of his daughter’s (Jean Peters)  involvement with a half-breed. The casting of Katy Jurado, the cinematic epitome of soulful dignity, really hammers home the anti-racist message for me. As her family first squabbles and then tears itself apart in an orgy of greed and ambition, she remains the one calm, loving and forgiving constant, surrounded by a sea of pettiness and jealousy. It’s interesting too that following her husband’s death, she moves back to her own people while the three sons of the first marriage relocate to the town and luxury – the ranch lying abandoned, the most positive figure reverting to traditional ways and the negative ones embracing the brave new world of progress. As such, I think this film earns a slot in what we sometimes refer to as the pro-Indian cycle of westerns. Aside from Jean Peters as the spirited love interest for Wagner, most of the others in the fairly big cast are subsidiary characters. E G Marshall gets to indulge in a bit of stiff self-reproach, but Hugh O’Brian and Earl Holliman have little else to do other than skulk around in Widmark’s sneering wake.

Broken Lance is widely available on DVD nowadays – it’s out on Blu-ray in France although I suspect that edition will have forced subtitles, and the Spanish version is reportedly a BD-R. I have the old UK release from about 10 years ago, which is still a very strong disc. The image is very sharp and clean and does a fine job of showing off the widescreen cinematography. Unfortunately, for such a rich movie, there are no extra features whatsoever offered. As remakes go, Broken Lance is one of the very best in my opinion. House of Strangers (which can itself be taken as a spin on King Lear) is a fine film in its own right but I feel the story is actually improved upon in this instance. By moving the location and turning it into a western, a number of other themes are more productively (or maybe more interestingly) explored  – anyway, it’s sufficiently different and worthwhile to be judged on its own terms rather than comparatively. The characterization is complex, the writing smart, and the direction and cinematography are first class, with what looks a lot like a nod to Anthony Mann in the climactic scene high among the rocks – a highly recommended western that stands out even in the crowded field of 50s classics.


44 thoughts on “Broken Lance

  1. Terrific review, Colin, of a major film, let alone a major western. That was a time, wasn’t it (the 50s) when cinemas biggest names from acting, directing, writing etc would come together to make a towering example of movie-making bringing together adult themes with great maturity. Ah, what times! Wonderful…and it makes me sad that such an art seems either to have been largely lost today or that maybe audiences don’t want it any more. We get Johnny Depp in “The Lone Ranger” instead. Guess I’m just showing my age!
    Anyway, thanks for reminding me it’s time to dig out my copy for a re-watch.

    • Thanks, Jerry. Good to hear you appreciate the film too. Yes, a good deal of the thrust of Hollywood filmmaking has changed, particularly in relation to genre pictures. While I don’t think every movie can or should be focused on weighty themes, I would like to see a little more variety instead of a relentless tide of mindless popcorn fare. I guess it boils down to economics, the massive costs nowadays discouraging risk taking.

  2. Mate, Amazon France would do a roaring trade off me, and I’m sure most everyone of your visitors, if the subtitles were removable. Something to do with the licensing agreement. Fine, except they’re not getting released anywhere else. Of course, what then happens is you get a film like Broken Lance, which I’ve had my eye on for ages, but am abstaining from purchasing on DVD in the likelihood as soon as I do it’ll get a local release.

    Blu-rays from Germany are much friendlier – the improvements in picture and sound in Western Union, Warlock, Lonely Are The Brave, and Valdez is Coming is astonishing. Real pity the German range isn’t as expansive as the French. Or maybe lucky or I’d be broke.

    Sorry for the rant, Colin, but that forced subs issue drives me loco.
    Great work as always.

    • Tell me about it, Chris! It has to be a licensing issue – I can’t think of any other reason as it must impact on international sales for the companies involved. Like you, I’ve no doubt this film will emerge somewhere in an English-friendly version. And I quite agree on the quality of the Koch Blu-rays – those I’ve seen are marvelous.

  3. Great review Colin – I have always had a soft-spot for the remake, perhaps because I saw it more than once before catching HOUSE OF STRANGERS. This version is certainly cast from strength but is also very atmospheric (unlike the other Tracy/Wagner/Dmytryk collaboration, the rather dull adventure, THE MOUNTAIN)

    • Thanks. I’d say I prefer it too, and mostly for the same reason.
      I’ve never actually seen The Mountain but I agree the atmosphere is strong in this film – the scenes in the deserted Devereaux home are beautifully shot and composed.
      Of course the cinematography and direction are virtually flawless throughout, spellbinding stuff for the most part.
      Of Dmytryk’s westerns, I’m very fond of Warlock too, although I feel it tries to pack too much in and suffers in the end from the succession of climaxes.

      • Tracy is one of my favourite actors and I do like him here but Wagner also gets a decent look in (THE MOUNTAIN drags as it is both a bit turgid and, despite being shot in ~VistaVision, it is mostly studio-bound, which really hurts it).

        • Hmm, The Mountain sounds like it has an interesting premise, of course that doesn’t necessarily translate into a good film. Nevertheless, I still hope to see it at some point.

          I thought Wagner was pretty good in this film, and quite well cast. I did find him a bit lightweight as Jesse James but this role was better suited to his strengths.

          • The is apparently a very good Blu-ray of THE MOUNTAIN but I’d much rather have BROKEN LANCE in High Def! (but not with forced subtitles!). At the time I remember being surprised that Widmark was cast in effect as the third lead, but I guess he was the co-lead in a lot of films up until about then.

            • Yes, he had similar billing in Garden of Evil, which is from the same year. I suppose my only real complaint would be that we don’t get to see enough of him the first half of the movie. However, even a rationed amount of Widmark is more than worthwhile.

  4. As expected, another great review of a major budget western with some of the major stars at that time. I can’t help reminiscing of those good old days at the cinema enjoying an entertaining western. Best regards.

    • Thanks. I can only imagine how a film like this would play on the big screen – I don’t stretch far enough back to have had the opportunity of seeing them in that way, though I certainly envy those of you who did.

  5. I have always enjoyed the westerns particularly in colour and cinemascope to appreciate the panoramic locations. Any westerns in colour and cinemascope were added attractions or bonus to me. Best regards.

    • Quite. Films such as this were meant to be viewed on huge screens. Over the years, I’ve been able to see a reasonable number of reruns projected large (a fair few Hitchcock movies in outdoor cinemas in Athens, for example) but no westerns that I can recall.

  6. This is one of my favorites. It always seemed like a different kind of western. Now, I know that it was a remake of a different kind of movie.

    • Yes, I think I know what you mean about the different feel. For me, the way westerns have been able to utilize, and make their own, material which originated in other genres is strong evidence of their malleability. What’s more, it’s not uncommon, as in this case, to see the material given a boost and improved upon by shifting it to a western setting.

  7. Blu Ray Blues………….or the movie fans dilemma!

    Colin, Let me first say that I have seen BROKEN LANCE several times in a movie theatre,
    and its a film that I have intended to upgrade to Blu-Ray.
    There is the problem.
    The French Blu Ray,of course has “forced” subtitles so that’s a no-go.
    The Spanish Blu Ray as you mention is a BD/R
    This BD/R thing seems to be sweeping Spain,several companies are at it.
    As DVD Beaver quotes these things are “pure bootlegs” but that does not stop The Beaver
    from reviewing them.
    As shown by the screencaps that The Beaver provides the p.q. is identical to the “official”
    versions. Let me say,before I go any further I am totally against these Spanish imprints from
    ripping off small labels like Explosive who need all the sales they can get to survive; and issue
    a first class product.
    The true dilemma comes when the Spanish release Blu Ray versions of French Sidoins
    titles without those wretched “forced” subtitles. The dilemma is further enforced when
    these BD/Rs appear of ultra expensive Criterion titles at a fraction of the cost.
    Even further problems when Spanish Region B versions appear of titles from the likes of
    Kino Lorber,Olive and others which are Region A locked.
    I have spoken to other UK collectors who welcome these Spanish bootlegs especially with
    the cost saving element. There are obviously loopholes in the copyright laws in Spain which
    allow this process to continue.
    I have not yet dipped my toes into the Spanish bootleg pond but that’s not to say I have not
    been tempted.
    Furthermore a friend of mine who is far more “technical” than me (no difficult feat)
    says that in the very near future with ultra high definition and 4K televisions “high quality
    off air bootlegs” will be much easier to foist onto the buying public.
    I have very fond memories of BROKEN LANCE and will hopefully get an official Blu Ray of
    it in the near future.
    I must say that I am in totally agreement with Cavershamragu’s opinion of THE MOUNTAIN.
    This is a film that I wanted to see for years and found it a huge let down and agree that
    the set-bound appearance detracts from the film very much.
    Oddly enough I re-watched DANGEROUS MISSION the other night and was amazed at how
    good the set bound glacier scenes worked,far better than in THE MOUNTAIN I thought.

    One Western re-make that did not work was FIEND THAT WALKED THE WEST a really
    loopy remake of Hathaway’s masterful KISS OF DEATH. Gordon Douglas’ direction was
    fine but the casting of the leads sank that one with Robert Evans laughable in the Widmark role.

    • John, it’s a film I’d buy a Blu-ray of in a heartbeat too, if the right edition came along – although I feel sure it will sooner or later.
      I don’t know for sure what way rights for some films lie in Spain, or whether there are bona fide licensing deals in place. Either way, I’m not spending money on a BD-R.

      On the matter of using sets to double for various locales, it’s something I find I have to assess on a film by film basis. Sometimes it works fine, and can even enhance the viewing experience if handled skillfully, while on other occasions it’s so poorly done that it becomes something of a distraction. I recall Dangerous Mission being a lot of fun but it’s an awful long time since I last saw it.

      • One thing,I understand these Spanish Bootlegs can’t do is include extras on their
        BD/R versions. They simply cannot source a Spanish dub for the English speaking
        extras that come on Blu-Rays from the likes of Arrow.
        DVD Beaver have often cited Olive Films of doing “bare bones” releases,no extras,not
        even a trailer. Arrow on the other hand normally include a whole raft of extras which in turn
        make their Blu Rays darn good value.
        This Spanish Bootleg thing is obviously getting out of control and a good way legit companies
        can combat them is to include far more extras on their Blu Ray editions.
        I am hoping Arrow will eventually give us extra packed Blu-Ray editions of THE PREMATURE
        The first title is already out from Koch and has been “bootlegged” by the Spanish.
        The other two are forthcoming from Kino-Lorber and I am sure Spanish bootlegs will follow
        in due course.
        I am very happy to wait in hope for Arrow versions as those three films are very much in-line
        with the sort of releases Arrow do.
        Sorry to go so far “off topic” and I have very much enjoyed the feedback on BROKEN LANCE.
        There are several Fifties Fox CinemaScope Westerns that I would love Blu-Ray editions of
        especially THE LAST WAGON and THE PROUD ONES.

        • Definitely share your hopes for The Last Wagon & The Proud Ones.
          I agree too on the quality of Arrow releases, and Eureka as well, and am more than happy to support their sterling efforts.

  8. As well as appreciating your excellent piece, I have to second Jerry’s first comment above. Seems like I’m always wanting to tell people that the Western of the 50s is a treasure trove of movies to discover and rediscover and it just never wears out. I never know if they believe me. But I’m happy for those who have shared my experience with the genre.

    I so much agree with everything you said about BROKEN LANCE that I can only back you up on a few points. I first saw it on first release before I ever saw HOUSE OF STRANGERS. That is a good film too but I think the story gains by being made into a Western for all the reasons that you say–the intimate story is taken into history and images of the changing land, which is enduring some of the corruption Matt is fighting, kind of putting you on his side with the copper miners for all of his too hard-handed methods. The racism that partly animates the movie because of the Indian theme and Matt’s two marriages also lifts it. It not only brings in Katy Jurado’s beautifully done character but makes Joe a more interesting hero too. The one respect in which HOUSE OF STRANGERS is stronger is in the romantic relationship of Richard Conte/Susan Hayward, very adult in treatment and this film doesn’t really try to do as much with Wagner and Peters though what is there is very good.

    I guess I have to praise one of my favorite actors Richard Widmark. He doesn’t have a lot to do until the last third but doesn’t need to do a lot to make his character work even before that because he is so good at layering in some complexity. Ben will become a very dark villain by the end but it’s hard not to see his side because the of the way Matt’s always treated him, which Widmark gets over so well in his stinging bitter line to Joe “You always were his little pet” and then in an outstanding, powerful scene with Tracy near the end of the flashback. Since Tracy is the central figure around which the narrative is woven and Wagner is the hero, Widmark should rightfully be billed third I would say, and it’s my guess that they pushed him to fourth because it was his last film on his Fox contract and they knew he was going (THE LAST WAGON and WARLOCK were made later and Widmark was already free lancing then). After his first four films, Widmark was more often a hero than a villain (especially good if an equivocal one like in PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET though for me he plays well all across the spectrum of his characters) and I think the role of Ben ends his excellent Fox years on a very satisfying note.

    Edward Dmytryk is a good test for me of a director who I will take up for when he makes something good even though I might not want to because of his personal history. One doesn’t need to get out there for him too much because he does have ups and downs but the two 50s Westerns are both outstanding and for me on a level with his best pre-HUAC work in the 40s (TILL THE END OF TIME is a beautiful work and he also was notably effective with CROSSFIRE of those earlier movies). It’s true that WARLOCK is very elaborate, but even if I might give the edge to the direct momentum of the BROKEN LANCE narrative (still given formal complexity by the flashback structure), I’m not sure that should be against the later film since it’s generally so absorbing (and it does have another great role for Widmark!). What’s really interesting is that in both films Dmytryk seems stimulated by the theme of betrayal–either between friends in WARLOCK or within family in BROKEN LANCE–and one doesn’t need to know anything about him to feel he animates that theme powerfully (it is treated with some effectiveness in THE CAINE MUTINY too). I guess, honestly, if one does know his HUAC history it gives this a little extra peripheral interest; I’m saying this even though I’m not really in favor of going to biography and you don’t need to know anything about him to see the theme playing well in these movies as it does.

    • Widmark’s character is very complex, one of those 50s villains whose turning bad is almost understandable under the circumstances. I think the way Widmark keeps so much of his bitterness and sense of being wronged under control (but just barely) for so long makes the effect of his uncorking of that particular bottle all the more powerful. Those two scenes you refer to (first in the courthouse and then on the verandah of his home) are the real highlights, but I really like he way he’s barely able to disguise his contempt for the characters played by Holliman and O’Brian throughout – it’s as though his disgust at his situation is multiplied by having to ally himself with a pair like that.

      On Dmytryk, I remember referring briefly to his HUAC background when I wrote about Warlock in the past as I do think there are elements in that film which refer or relate more directly to what went on, or at least I felt they could be interpreted in that way. In this case, it’s not so obvious to me and I didn’t feel it necessary to mention the events explicitly. I agree the film (and others he made too like Obsession/The Hidden Room) does explore the notion of betrayal and does it successfully enough that it requires no background or biographical knowledge. I think that being aware of the HUAC affair, and Dmytryk’s part in it, maybe adds an extra layer but I also think you’re right that the theme is no less apparent without that knowledge.

      • I didn’t realize you had written about WARLOCK before so appreciated your calling attention to that and just now read it. Yes, as I also said, that’s a very elaborate plot, but it’s so interesting and the film is strongly handled throughout. I agree with you it’s Dmytryk’s last good film, at least the last one that I care anything about, but anyone who contributed to the 50s Western as he did has a place for me. By the way, Colin, what Dmytryk said about the Fonda/Quinn relationship doesn’t need to be taken as the final word there, does it? I personally support the homoerotic argument in this case, though I do think one has to be careful in how one talks about it and allow some mystery is to what is actually there between the two men and perhaps just playing around somewhere in their psyches. But if one is willing to approach it that way, it adds to the film to consider it. One should note that both men have had or do have relationships with women (Malone in Quinn’s past, Michaels in Fonda’s present) and so this is in context that human relationships may be very complex.

        You are right that WARLOCK plays more to Dmytryk’s history than BROKEN LANCE, because in WARLOCK the betrayals are between friends (Fonda and Quinn friendship also dramatically broken in a different way) and that was the case with Dmytryk. Of course, I’d say Dmytryk is reaching if somewhere in his consciousness he felt close to Johnny Gannon who had good reasons to change sides as he did, while Dmytryk’s actions were to me strictly self-preserving and indefensible.

        A few good words for Dmytryk to close this further comment–not only did he appreciate Widmark, who has such good roles in both films, but he also valued Joe MacDonald, who did as beautiful color and wide screen work as he had done great black and white, academy ratio work in earlier days, very conspicuously on MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, to name just one other Western.

        • Might add re Johnny Gannon/Richard Widmark and other characters, I had not meant to imply that Dmytryk simply finds a way to take the side of the betrayers in his narratives. He doesn’t and is as likely to be hard on them, or more accurately, tends to look at all aspects of relationships in which betrayals have a part in how they play out. That’s why I like what he does with it.

          I did wind up going in a little more personal direction than I really meant to before. I may have strong feelings about someone’s actions in their lives but I do believe it’s best to consider artists for their work and to try not to follow that road. In Dmytryk’s case, it’s hard not to think about this if one knows about it, but the important thing is what he does as a director, and I really wanted to give him credit that he could engage a theme like this in interesting, dramatically powerful ways.

          • I think you’re being very fair to Dmytryk in this case. There’s a strong sense of your appreciation of his talents and achievements as a director. Mention of less creditable actions in other aspects of his life do not detract from his artistic status for me – our chat here about the possible interpretations of his handling of certain themes (betrayal, essentially) bears that out, I feel.

        • Yes, I also feel Dmytryk would be stretching things a bit to ask us to equate himself with Johnny Gannon in Warlock. It was just a thought that occurred to me at the time, that he might have been seeking some self-justification indirectly. Or I might simply have been reading things into the film that aren’t really there. Just a bit of idle theorizing on my part, I suppose.

          And no, I don’t suppose the director’s interpretation of the Fonda/Quinn relationship does have to be taken as gospel. The film is, after all, a deeply complex work, so the possible presence of another layer isn’t to be entirely dismissed. Whatever way you look at it, the film offers so much to think about, and that’s all to its credit. The mere fact so many social, political, sexual and personal themes (and that’s before we even get into the more spiritual side of things) were seamlessly woven into the narratives attests to the greatness of the genre in my opinion.

  9. Enjoyed reading your review, I really like this one (as well as House of Strangers and Warlock). It ranks high just as a family epic, on top of being a grand western. Agree also about Wagner here, we have much the same opinion of him as Jesse. I love comparing noirs and their western remakes, interesting how many were remade and why some work but others not so much. Cheers.

    • Thanks, Kristina. I think that’s a good deal of the beauty of so many classic westerns – they can be appreciated and operate equally well on a range of levels. You get the family drama, the western action, the social commentary, the historical aspect, and so on.

    • I’m not sure when I first saw it, Mike, but I would have been quite young too. Of course the subtlety and complexity would have pretty much passed me by at that stage. Movies like this are a pleasure to revisit though – plenty of depth to hold the interest and the kind of running time that ensures it never becomes a chore.

  10. Colin, great review for a great movie .Spencer Tracy is great and so is Katy Jurado . I like the confrontation with the miner where he says “why you pasty faced Easterner” “and also where he tells the lawyer in the courtroom “by the time I run you out of town your heels will be smoking” Good stuff .

    • Thanks! It’s a very high-powered cast and the script offers good opportunities, like those you mention, for them to shine and deliver some memorable lines. The courtroom scene is loaded with good stuff, and I really like the exchanges between Tracy and Jurado as they prepare for dinner, revealing much about their relationship.

  11. Thanks for your comment, Blake.
    I agree with the general consensus here that this movie had a very strong cast. Katy Jurado is terrific here (as she was in HIGH NOON) and Widmark was never less than riveting in virtually anything he did, I feel. Having made a strong impression in his very first movie, he was just off and running, never backward in playing unpleasant characters. Even his heroes tended to be imbued with shades of the darker side. In this he reminds me most of Robert Ryan, and because of their amazing talents and courage, are two of my favourite actors.

    • Jerry, that’s a good point about playing heroes and villains with shadings. It’s not the easiest thing to pull off successfully yet it fleshes out and adds humanity to characters, and both Ryan and Widmark were very good at doing this.

  12. Hi Colin, catching up on your blog after a long absence from the web. Great review on a great movie. Warlock is more enjoyable, but I first began to appreciate Dmytryk after watching this. It dealt with so many themes, racism, family loyalty and the changing west. Above all, the lack of a traditional villain was an eye-opener. Definitely deserves more attention.

    • Thanks, Andrew, and nice to hear from you. It is a marvelously rich film for all the complex and interrelated themes you mentioned there, with fine work from all those involved both in front of and behind the camera.

  13. Nice work, Colin. I need to work this one into the re-watch list as it must be 20 plus years since last viewed. (Another guy from Canada is Dmytryk)

    • Hope you get round to it, Gord, as it’s a fine film overall. Dmytryk’s work became patchy as the years went by but this is one of the better films he made.

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