series celebrating the career of director William A. Wellman.
While I wish I'd been able to see more of the films earlier in the series, I've had really wonderful experiences over the last couple of weekends seeing ISLAND IN THE SKY (1953), WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951), YELLOW SKY (1948), and BEAU GESTE (1939). The screenings were all the more enjoyable thanks to the warm, appreciative introductions of the director's son, William Wellman, Jr.
Tonight was a 35mm screening of TRACK OF THE CAT (1954) starring Robert Mitchum. Wellman introduced the film as "a black and white movie shot in color." He mentioned that all of his father's Westerns were "offbeat" in various ways and said TRACK OF THE CAT might have been the most offbeat of them all.
Wellman was joined by Robert Mitchum's daughter Petrine, author of HOLLYWOOD HOOFBEATS, a history of movie horses. She shared very interesting information on the talented Black Diamond, her father's horse in the movie.
William Wellman Jr. and Petrine Mitchum are seen here signing books before the movie.
I knew going in that the movie would be as Wellman described it, "offbeat," but I felt seeing it at UCLA would be the best way to try the movie. Seeing this CinemaScope film on UCLA's big screen was definitely the way to watch it.
PURSUED (1947). While in PURSUED Mitchum and Wright are an adoptive brother and sister who fall in love and marry, in TRACK OF THE CAT they are simply siblings who don't like each other. But then, very few people in the movie like each other!
While there were moments of interest and I was glad I saw it, this was definitely one of those movies which more than once left me wondering "What on earth were they thinking?" It's a talky, overly theatrical, and soundstage-bound depiction of a highly dysfunctional family.
Pa Bridges (Philip Tonge) is an alcoholic married to a controlling, bitter woman (Beulah Bondi). None of their four children have married, despite getting along in years; Curt (Mitchum) is the nasty boss of his siblings, Arthur (William Hopper) is a more mellow and artistic sort, and Grace (Wright) is an "old maid" who spends much of her time hiding in her room.
Hal (Tab Hunter) is the only one who seems to have any hope for the future, as he's been keeping company with Gwen (Diana Lynn). Gwen is interested in marrying him but wants Hal to stand up for himself. Hal's mother tries to drive Gwen away, seemingly preferring that the family go on being miserable by themselves.
Rounding out the cast is an ancient Indian played by young Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer in horrid makeup. Again, what were they thinking?!
Curt and Arthur go out to track a killer cat. The cat kills Arthur, and Curt ties him to his horse and sends the horse on home. The rest of the movie runs on parallel tracks as Curt continues to track the cat, while back at home Gwen tries to roust Hal away from his family, even as Arthur's laying out and burial is taking place. Yep, it's a pretty weird movie -- just wait till the funeral scene, shot upwards from the bottom of Arthur's burial place!
There's actually relatively little of Mitchum in the film, considering he's the star, and until she makes a couple of impassioned speeches near the end, there's not much of Teresa Wright, either.
Tab Hunter is front and center much of the movie, with Bondi yakking at him endlessly and Lynn trying to pull him away from his family, while dodging his lecherous drunk of a father. One has to think there must have been slim pickings in the area for Gwen to be willing to marry a man who came with such a family!
The movie did gain interest as it went along, though I watched it as an analytical observer and was never moved by it.
I especially enjoyed what Wellman and cinematographer William Clothier did with color, or the lack thereof; most of the wardrobes and decor, such as blankets, are black and white, but then there are a few big splashes of color, including Curt's red jacket and Gwen's yellow blouse. Matches and fire are also key items with bold color.
Unfortunately the movie has an odd hybrid look which detracts from what Wellman accomplishes with the use of color. Most of Mitchum's scenes are played outdoors, yet the exterior of the family home is firmly planted in a soundstage, which adds to the film's theatrical feel.
The screenplay of this 103-minute film was by A.I. Bezzerides, who also wrote THIEVES' HIGHWAY (1949) and ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951), both seen last month at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.
The script was based on a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Clark also wrote the book which inspired the evening's second film, THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943), but I left after the first movie.
TRACK OF THE CAT is available in a Collector's Edition DVD put out by the John Wayne Estate; the film was produced by Wayne's production company, Wayne-Fellows. TRACK OF THE CAT also had a 1999 VHS release.
All in all, I was glad I saw and became familiar with the movie under the best conditions possible, but this won't go down as a favorite.
There's more great stuff ahead at UCLA, including a series honoring director Frank Borzage, opening on July 10th, and a retrospective of films by pioneering woman director Dorothy Arzner, opening July 31st. I'll have more information on each series posted here in July.