Monday, December 5, 2016

From the Rental Vault: Pursued (1947)

Robert Mitchum played his strongest roles in noir and Western pictures (he said of his acting style that he had two: On a horse and off). Raoul Walsh's Pursued takes a shot at mixing the two styles and comes off with an uneasy, uneven blend that doesn't make up either its own or its audience's mind about what it's supposed to be doing.

Mitchum is Jeb, orphaned as a boy when his family is gunned down in a firefight at his home. He is taken in by Ma Callum (Judith Anderson) to be raised with her own children. But he remains haunted by the loss of his family and his frustratingly vague memories of the night they were killed. It leaves him unable to bond with the Callums and both brothers grow up resenting what they believe to be favorable treatment of Jeb by Ma. But he has fallen in love with his foster sister Thor (Teresa Wright), and even the machinations of Ma's brother-in-law Grant Callum (Dean Jagger) seem unable to pry them apart. Jeb's return to town as a triumphant war hero inflames even more resentment and the schemes against him take on a deadly edge.

While the setting is Western -- New Mexico in the early 1900s -- the shrouded inescapable past and hidden motives come straight out of the film noir playbook. Nothing says that the two genres can't mix, but Niven Busch's screenplay doesn't manage to get them there. We're told different motivations for the characters, but they never live them out in any convincing way. People seem to do things just because the story needs them to be done in order to get from one scene to the next.

A director like Walsh and actors like Mitchum, Anderson and Wright have the chops to almost bring Pursued across the finish line, but not without a clear sense that things could have been better.

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