The Halliday Brand

When I started this blog a good many years ago my motivation was to talk about movies, in particular westerns. At the time I felt the genre was somewhat neglected in comparison to others, and that what we might refer to as the medium efforts were passed over with depressing regularity. Films such as The Halliday Brand (1957) were what I had in mind, where a strong cast and crew worked on a project that only a smattering of people seemed to be aware of. This is a movie where the final result isn’t quite up to the level of the filmmakers’ ambition, where you have to admire the stylish execution even as you experience a touch of regret for a promising scenario which doesn’t quite gel.

The opening makes it clear that the Halliday family is a troubled one, Clay (Bill Williams) attempting to coax his brother Daniel (Joseph Cotten) back to the homestead at the point of a gun. The reason is Dan senior (Ward Bond), local lawman and hardheaded pioneer, is on his deathbed and keen to see his estranged son while he still has time. Now this is an especially dark tale of familial strife, bordering on film noir in its intensity and tragedy, and it’s therefore only appropriate that its telling should be largely undertaken via flashback. It’s here that we learn how the elder Halliday is so consumed with an unpleasant combination of racial prejudice and stubborn pride that he’s prepared to ignore the advice of his sons and his own inner voice. His inflexibility leads to a lynching that breaks his daughter’s heart, and then a pointless confrontation which drives a powerful wedge between himself and the son who bears his name. And at the center of this emotional maelstrom sits the mystically serene enigma that is Aleta (Viveca Lindfors), the half-Indian girl who has captured the hearts of both Halliday brothers.

I have to say I really like the films of Joseph H Lewis; they may not always be wholly successful but there is an artistic drive and strong visual sensibility at their heart which is hard to resist. The Halliday Brand sets itself up as a classical tragedy played out against a frontier backdrop, which is a noble enough intention and one which has paid off in other productions. Here I think it works only up to a point as it feels as though there are too many themes (or too many facets of themes) competing for the viewer’s attention over its reasonably brief running time. The essence of it all is the Halliday brand of the title – the literal one is the symbol of the buried tomahawk, of conflicts resolved through strength, while the figurative one is the harsh implacability represented by Halliday senior and the barely acknowledged version of the same to be found in the younger generation. One could draw inferences from the casting of arch-conservative Ward Bond as the in such a role but it’s (in my opinion) an optional exercise and the movie still works without doing so – it’s the human drama at the center of it all that counts for more but the layered structure facilitates different levels of appreciation if desired.

Bond is as impressive as ever in his role here, mean and manipulative to the end and an imposing, authentic physical presence. Joseph Cotten is less effective I feel, his natural reserve fits the quieter and more introspective side of his character but his performance feels somewhat mannered at times and could have used a bit more raw passion. Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors sounds like an odd choice to play a half-Indian girl but her striking beauty, photographed with superb skill by Ray Rennahan, works in her favor and I found her credible in the role. In support there is good solid work done by Bill Williams, Jay C Flippen and a virtually unrecognizable Jeanette Nolan.

The Halliday Brand is available on DVD from the US via the MGM Manufacture on demand line. It looks like an older television master was utilized, meaning an acceptable if unspectacular image in terms of clarity and contrast. However, bearing in mind this is a 1957 production, it’s almost impossible to see how the Academy ratio presented on the disc could be correct. That aside, the film is a moderately successful example of western noir – the classical aspirations don’t all hit the mark but the attempt remains a stylish and entertaining one.

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52 thoughts on “The Halliday Brand

  1. Aha!! After a lengthy, and most enjoyable trip down the mean streets of London reviewing British thrillers, it is good to see your return to the wide open spaces once more, Colin!

    Personally, I have always enjoyed “THE HALLIDAY BRAND” a lot, not as a classic western, which it is not, but as one of those satisfying and entertaining horse operas that make up the bulk of the genre.

    Joseph H. Lewis is one of the somewhat unsung heroes of western film-making, though recognition is beginning to seep through, as his films usually contain a certain visual flair that lifts them out of the ordinary. Even early on, Lewis displayed that flair in his direction of some of the best in the CVs of Johnny Mack Brown (“Arizona Cyclone”) and Bill Elliott (“The Man From Tumbleweeds”), going on to bigger-budgeted (well, medium-budgeted) films such as “GUN CRAZY”, “A LAWLESS STREET” & of course, “THE HALLIDAY BRAND”. When I see his name in the credits my eyes light up just that bit more.

    Keep ’em coming, Colin. Now that you are back in the saddle, I wonder – what next?!

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    • Well I thought it was about time, Jerry! Mind you, I am back in the saddle in more ways than one, what with work starting up again. As such, I’ll not be posting at the rate I was over the summer, but I will try to keep the place updated as regularly as possible and, hopefully, not let it stagnate too much.

      Anyway, I like the movie and I feel Lewis’ direction is a big part of the reason why. I’m really not familiar with his early work but his films from the mid-40s to the late 50s (and this was one of his last features) are full of interesting visuals and inventiveness. I also get that buzz when I know I’m watching something he made.

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  2. In my opinion, fourth billed Bond was far and away the standout performance…….shades of the Duke in the Searchers and Red River at every turn. Thus, I could easily see the Bond role elevated to the lead with John Wayne in the part.

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    • I’d agree up to a point there, Scott. Bond played his role well, as always, but I think the writing lets the character down somewhat. And that’s what distinguishes those Wayne characters you refer to, the writing and the evolution that sprang from that, moved them onto a different level. I’ve spent a lot of time on this site, maybe too much for some, looking at the matter of redemption in the western. I’m of a mind now that the great westerns, the classics of the genre and even some of the more modest affairs, all featured redemption, or renewal or some type of spiritual rebirth – it forms the creative dynamo for me. And the writing here doesn’t offer any of that to Bond’s character – there are flashes of introspection from time to time but no spiritual lessons learned by him.
      So yes, the performance is a strong one as far as I’m concerned but suffers because the script failed to deliver that crucial extra dimension.

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      • I see you point Colin and it is well taken. However, my view is somewhat different. The script was written as it was. It was a perfect fit for a hard boiled go down in flames actor like Bond. He fit the role perfectly as written and could pull it off. From the get go and reinforced throughout, I never waited for Bond to redeem himself and if he had, the film would have lost it’s message of how a powerful steadfast individual could lose his moral compass in order to maintain his standing within himself and the community for which he dwell ed.
        As far as Bond being too young for the role……..on the contrary, I see Cotton as being too old for the top billed role. It leaves me wondering…….who would have been a better fit than Cotton?

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        • Yes Scott, that makes sense too and does tie in with Bond’s uncompromising persona. I think, for me, it comes down to my view of the western (which I’m not going to suggest is the correct one, instead it’s just mine) as a cinematic contemplation of growth, evolution and change. I suppose I look at the genre as an examination of an ever changing set of circumstances and how people had to adapt to those shifts, as individuals and as a society, and how a contemporary audience is asked to view certain issues.

          Let’s put it this way: I see the western as in essence the definition of Hollywood, a definition of the current cultural zeitgeist. As such, the western functions as a reflection of whatever that current zeitgeist happens to be – so if we fail to identify or sympathize with the direction the genre has taken at a given time, then perhaps that means we no longer identify with whatever cultural spirit prevails at that time? Anyway, I think The Halliday Brand wanted to say something about miscegenation, and inflexibility on both a personal and societal level, and I’m not sure it fully delivers. But, as I say, that’s possibly a result of how I’m approaching it more than anything. Isn’t it interesting how we can apply a whole range of interpretations to these things? I reckon hat in itself bears testament to the greatness of this genre we all love.

          Good point about Cotten maybe being too old as opposed to Bond being too young. For what it’s worth, I’m at a loss right now to think of another younger actor who could have filled the role. I wouldn’t mind hearing some suggestions though…

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          • I’ve been burning my brain who other than Cotten could have filled that role. It would take someone between the age of 30-35 by my estimation. I think a bigger part of the problem is generational. In 1957 the younger talent kicking around Hollywood was much more limited in numbers with much less experience in this type of genre film exposure than those stable of actors during the studio era heyday. There are literally dozens of actors from that earlier era that could have easily filled the role. The producers of this film needed someone other than Ward Bond to be topped billed for promotional reasons. Cotten was an established leading man they could easily sign…..especially during this phase of his career. I believe a younger Cotten just would have been more convincing and believable.

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            • Well, Rock Hudson, who shared billing with Cotten a few years later in The Last Sunset, would have been around that age at the time, as was Rory Calhoun. And then there was guy called Audie Murphy…

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              • Yep……thought about those guys too. For me it just didn’t seem to fit with the surly Bond. I think Heston would have been good. But, he had just made his mark into the big time.

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                • Heston had slipped my mind, but yes, he had an authentic western presence about him and I could see him butting heads with Bond quite effectively.
                  He had made The Ten Commandments by then and his star was very much on the rise but I’d say he hadn’t fully cemented his place till The Big Country and then Ben-Hur. The rest then is history…

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  3. Firstly,Colin it’s fine to see you back on the range again as Jerry so aptly points out.
    Secondly I’m glad Jerry mentioned, that films like GUN CRAZY were in fact, more than mere B Movies. GUN CRAZY is referred again and again as a B Movie
    which it certainly was not especially with its $450,000 budget-a programmer yes; but a B Movie,no.
    Jerry will also know that in his B Western series days Lewis was known as “Wagon Wheel Joe” with his inventive set ups especially shooting through the spokes of a wagon wheel to make it look more interesting even on those threadbare budgets.
    Columbia head honcho Harry Cohn first noticed Lewis while watching the B picture MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS before too long he was elevated to bigger budgets-UNDERCOVER MAN, THE SWORDSMAN neither were B Movies. THE HALLIDAY BRAND for me is a lesser Lewis effort a triumph of style over content if you will. The film’s main fault is the casting especially with Bond playing Cotten’s father despite them both being virtually the same age. Also, I never cared for Joseph Cotten in Westerns that much-though having said that I really like UNTAMED FRONTIER another brooding intense film.

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    • John, I don’t think I’d call Lewis a B director from the mid-40s on either. Sure a lot of his work was in programmers but, as you suggest, that’s not the same thing.
      “A triumph of style over content” is a fair enough description, I guess. I do think there’s too much content really for such a brief film and it suffers a bit from not being able to explore all of it as much as it should.
      The casting issue: Bond wasn’t old enough in years to be playing Cotten’s father but, in fairness, he was looking older than his years at this stage in life and he’s also made up in such a way as to exaggerate that. It didn’t trouble me that much and I quickly forgot about it, but the one-dimensional writing of his role troubled me more. On Cotten, I don’t mind him in westerns, although I do think he did better work outside the genre. I just feel that here he’s too restrained, playing it all a little too cool in a film where a higher emotional temperature was required.

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    • I quite agree. Just because a film isn’t always quite as much as one might hope for, that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. Lewis was enough of a stylist to ensure his films got the viewers’ attention – sure some were more compelling than others and consequently more celebrated but this remains highly watchable and entertaining even if it’s perhaps a step short of the very best.

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  4. The more I think about it,and I have mentioned this to Indicator (who love their “cult” directors,I might add) what a wonderful Joseph H Lewis at Columbia collection could be. For starters it would have to include MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS. Then his move away from B pics THE SWORDSMAN and THE UNDERCOVER MAN the former striking in jaw dropping Technicolor. I’ve never seen THE RETURN OF OCTOBER,this whimsical comedy sounds like unlikely Lewis fare. Having said that Technicolor and the always engaging Glenn Ford should mean the film is not without considerable merit. Then there are the two Scott Westerns which would be great to see in high definition. To round it off,and for our good friend Jerry, the set could include a Wild Bill Elliott B Western-his Columbia titles were generally way above average for the genre.

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  5. The age difference thing is quite interesting. Ward Bond was just 2 years older than Joseph Cotten, playing his son, though Bond did look much older than his years by this time.
    Similarly, the cast of the “BONANZA” TV series was a similar case in point; Lorne Greene was just 13 years older than Pernell Roberts as his older son, Adam and the same age difference with Dan Blocker as the next son, Hoss.
    We just have to look the other way with such things. They don’t really worry me too much.

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  6. Great to see you back out on the range, Colin, although your journey through the Brit budget crime dramas was fascinating. Have never heard of this Western, so my education continues, and admired the review for the quality of your thought and writing.

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  7. Great review Colin. When it comes to genre cinema, ambition has to be consideted a serious asset. I have never found Cotten especially compelling in Westerns, though fine in ‘period’ films (like Ambersons). Bond sounds perfect in a role that also reflects his notoriously hawkish stance in real life.

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    • Yes indeed, ambition from filmmakers can raise a lot of material to a different level, whereas a routine approach can have a correspondingly negative effect on even the most promising ideas.
      Bond is ideally cast, no question about it. Cotten really only made a handful of westerns in Hollywood during what we think of as the classic era, which may indicate a lack of enthusiasm for them on his part?

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  8. This is one western that I’ve long wanted to see but haven’t got round to. It never gets shown on TV here in the UK and I’ve resisted buying the dvd as it’s not in the correct ratio. But I like the films that I’ve seen of Joseph H Lewis and the supporting cast of this one looks good. Though like several others I’ve never thought Joseph Cotton best suited for westerns.

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    • Yes, I found it something of a rarity too, Ian. In the end, I caved and got the US disc even though I knew it wasn’t the correct ratio – I reckon this is open-matte as there’s a fair bit of space top and bottom, which at least is better than pan & scan.
      Not too many votes coming in for Cotten’s westerns so far, but I do think anyone who likes the films of Lewis in general should get something out of this.

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  9. As mentioned before I thought Cotten was pretty good
    in the equally brooding UNTAMED FRONTIER.
    He was excellent in THE LAST SUNSET but I did actually
    feel the role was somewhat degrading,especially considering
    his earlier career.
    Regarding ratios and open matte there’s an excellent link over
    at Toby’s to the French review of TAZA SON OF COCHISE.
    http://www.westernmovies.fr show the actual loss of information
    from 4×3 to 2.0 widescreen,it’s dramatic,to say the least.
    Western Movie’s Cole,prefers the 2.0 version because that’s
    how USA audiences would have seen it in cinemas.
    Cole makes a valid point…which version would Douglas Sirk
    have preferred.
    There’s also a wonderful link at Toby’s by the esteemed Bob Furmanek
    showing just how much Universal,in particular,had embraced the
    2.0 ratio in the mid 50.s.
    All this is at the end of the current Jesse James thread but as always
    we digress!

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    • Digress as much as you like, John – I have no problem with that in the least.
      2.00:1 is an odd ration isn’t it? Universal did seem to favor it for a time as you say but it never seemed to catch on very widely. I suppose it just ended up too awkward, falling somewhere in the middle of the more popular 1.78:1/1.85:1 and ‘Scope.

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  10. Yes,Colin I also think some of the Universal Hammers look
    great in 2.0 others beg to differ.
    As I mentioned over at Toby’s I’d love to see some of those U.I.
    50’s Westerns in that format especially the thus far unreleased
    RAILS INTO LARAMIE.
    The DVD and indeed the Blu Ray’s of SASKATCHEWAN
    are horribly grainy and just don’t look right overall.
    I love that movie and would be very keen to see it remastered
    in 2.0 especially with all those stunning vistas.
    I hope Kino Lorber will source some of the 2.0 Universals
    and indeed the unreleased 2.35 and 2.55 efforts.
    I don’t know if you saw my comment over at Toby’s but the
    Martin Scorsese Film Foundation and Universal are financing
    a total restoration of WINCHESTER’73 along with other
    Universal classics.

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    • No, I have a bit of catching up to do in terms of reading around. I already had this piece written and good to go but otherwise I’ve been traveling from one side of Europe to the other these last few days!

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  11. I’d just like to say a word in support of poor Mr. Cotten. Agreed he is not an obvious match for the western genre although I agree with John that he was just fine in “UNTAMED FRONTIER”. Actually, I find him OK in “THE HALLIDAY BRAND” apart from the obvious age issue.

    But he could be very good in some other fine films – “THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS”, “THE THIRD MAN”, “I’LL BE SEEING YOU”, “JOURNEY INTO FEAR” for starters.

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    • Jerry, a good number of films either starring or featuring Joseph Cotten have appeared on this site over the years so I have no issues with him as an actor, and actually rather enjoy his work when he’s been well cast. Overall, I think he had a lot more hits than misses in his career.

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  12. I don’t think that there’s any doubt that Cotton was a very good actor, he was also excellent in Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT. Some actors just seem to suit western garb better than others and have a laid back style. Personally, I always thought Joseph Cotton looked better in a suit and tie.

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    • Well put, Ian. I don’t think anyone here was suggesting he wasn’t good anyway, just a selection of different views on his work in different genres. He had a certain polish to him that probably did lend itself more to other settings.

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  13. Yes, Barry and Ian,
    Definitely agree about “SINCE YOU WENT AWAY” and “SHADOW OF A DOUBT” (maybe his best).

    I think it’s safe to say we all agree about Mr. Cotten on the whole.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I just stumbled on your blog, found it over at Mike’s Take on the Movies. Really good stuff. Taking part in the Joseph Cotten blogathon, I actually have never even heard of this film. Shame on me. I’ll be sure to seek it out.
    I saw your review on Ride Lonesome which I just watched last night. It’s a movie that almost instantly shot into my top 10 Westerns. I’ll leave a comment over there.

    Also, I’d like to add your blog to my blog list.

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    • Thank’s for that, Margot. It’s just sheer coincidence that I happened to post this around the time a Joseph Cotten blogathon was going – various, mainly work-related, circumstances have meant I’ve not been participating in blogathons of any kind for some time now and I therefore don’t always notice what’s current.
      Anyway, I’m happy to hear I pointed you towards a film that is new for you, and that you enjoyed stopping by this place.

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  15. Very interested to see Margot comment here-
    her blog down these dark streets is my “discovery” of the year.
    I adore her writing style which has the same effect (for me st least)
    as a vintage Raoul Walsh Warners flick-it crackles with energy-
    furthermore her blog is aimed squarely at adults.
    Anyway Walter and myself are recent converts-BTW I was surprised
    to see Walter MIA (at the moment at least) on this thread.
    Good to see RTHC added to Margot’s Blog register and a very select
    one it is too!

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  16. The “real” Margot would never blush no matter how much certain males might fawn. Don’t know if Colin has sussed the nom de plume but detective fan that he is,I guess he has by now.
    The odd thing is the film is in Colin’s now legendary “to be viewed” heap. This detective caper is catching. 🙂 The truth of the matter is, that the film in question would make a dynamite RTHC choice…I live in hope.
    I keep trying to persuade Colin to review HIGHWAY 301, another film in that “heap” Margot’s take on HIGHWAY 301 is well worth reading and may influence Colin, where I have failed…..no pressure there mate!!
    Thankfully Colin is well versed,by now, in my warped sense of humour.

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    • I’ll admit I had been steered the wrong way (apologies for an appalling pun there) by the name at first but it then dawned on me. That movie in question is in fact in my “viewed” pile but I never got round to posting anything on it. That doesn’t rule out my doing so at some future point of course…
      And John, I’ve not been deliberately avoiding ,Highway 301. The truth is is keeps slipping my mind for one reason or another, and right now I won’t have access to it for a good few months at the very least.

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