film series at UCLA: Tracking the Cat: Robert Mitchum in the West.
The two films on tonight's double bill were PURSUED (1947), directed by Raoul Walsh, and BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948), directed by Robert Wise.
Two special guests were on hand to introduce the films: Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation, who discussed BLOOD ON THE MOON, and Marilyn Ann Moss, author of the new book RAOUL WALSH: THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF HOLLYWOOD'S LEGENDARY DIRECTOR. Moss provided the introduction to PURSUED.
It was a great evening, including Ms. Moss signing my copy of her book at intermission, as well as introducing us to Raoul Walsh's nephew and relatives. And what a thrill to see these films on a huge screen in excellent 35-millimeter prints! The photography of James Wong Howe (PURSUED) and Nicholas Musuraca (BLOOD ON THE MOON) was simply stunning in both films, and looking at Mitchum riding across those Western landscapes in 35 millimeter was awe inspiring.
It's hard to believe, but I first reviewed BLOOD ON THE MOON nearly five years ago. I liked the film even more this time around. And having become more familiar with supporting cast members such as Charles McGraw and Tom Tully in the intervening years, it was fun to circle back to this title and view it with a greater sense of context. I highly recommend this excellent "Western film noir."
PURSUED is an old favorite which I first saw as a teenager. It's a murky story, told in flashback, which reflects Hollywood's mid-'40s interest in psychology. (There's more on that here and here.) Orphaned Jeb Rand (Mitchum) is deeply scarred by a nightmarish childhood trauma he can't quite remember.
Jeb is brought up by Ma Callum (Dame Judith Anderson); he has a conflicted relationship with his adoptive brother Adam (John Rodney), but as they reach adulthood, Jeb and his "sister" Thorley (Teresa Wright) fall in love and plan to marry.
Lurking in the background is evil, one-armed Grant Callum (Dean Jagger), Ma's brother-in-law, who's determined to kill Jeb. The tale takes an even stranger twist when Jeb is forced to shoot Adam in self-defense.
It's an unusual, plot-packed film which is somewhat difficult to describe concisely, but it's fascinating on multiple levels, whether the viewer is untangling the mystery, analyzing the strange family relationships, or simply appreciating the fine performances and the film's beautiful "look." There are new things to discover on repeat viewings; this time around I particularly picked up on interesting undercurrents in Adam's jealousy of Jeb.
Mitchum and Wright are particularly good in the lead roles. This was one of Mitchum's earliest leads in an "A" picture; his Jeb is perenially stoic, no matter what he's confronted with, while Thorley's emotions are all over the place. There's a fine scene on their wedding night as Jeb forces Thorley to confront the fine line she's walking between hate and love. The movie was written by Wright's husband, Niven Busch.
PURSUED has a running time of 101 minutes. The excellent supporting cast includes Alan Hale as Jeb's genial business partner; Harry Carey Jr. as Thorley's ill-fated beau; and Ian Wolfe in a very amusing turn as the town coroner.
PURSUED is available on DVD and VHS with an introduction by Martin Scorsese. Scorsese also helped fund UCLA's restoration of the film.
There's more about UCLA's Mitchum series in an article by Kenneth Turan at the L.A. Times.