Sunday, March 04, 2007

Tonight's Movie: Broken Lance (1954)

I've been in the midst of a heavy work crunch over the last couple of weeks, which has been good for our household budget but not so good for movie watching time! This weekend, however, we were able to continue our recent viewing of '50s Fox Westerns with BROKEN LANCE.

BROKEN LANCE casts Spencer Tracy as a stubborn rancher who loves his Indian wife (Katy Jurado), their son (Robert Wagner), and his ranch, but who has little affection or trust for his three older sons from his first marriage. Two of the sons (Hugh O'Brian and Earl Holliman) have become shiftless ne'er-do-wells, who stoop to rustling some of their father's own cattle for extra cash. The oldest son (Richard Widmark), who has poured years of hard work into the ranch, is hurt and angered by his father's rejection and refusal to let him take a bigger role in running the ranch. Family conflicts come to a head when a series of events leads to one of the brothers being jailed and the father having a stroke.

Spencer Tracy is superb as the flawed father, and Katy Jurado was nominated for the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Princess, his understanding wife. Robert Wagner and Jean Peters are pleasing, though not particular standouts, as the loyal "half-breed" son, Joe, and the girl he loves.

The always-interesting Richard Widmark is underutilized as the simmering oldest brother Ben; one reviewer at Amazon suggested that the "nervy, brilliant" Widmark should have instead played the larger Robert Wagner role as the youngest son, which would have been interesting. Still, Widmark is moving in his too-small part; although he is something of a villain due to his treatment of his half-brother, his frustration and resentment are understandable. The climactic confrontation between Widmark and Tracy, in which Widmark conveys the pain he's felt at having been overlooked his entire life, was riveting. I did find the final battle between Wagner and Widmark to stretch the bounds of believable plotting, but that is a small quibble with a very good film.

The movie, which won the Academy Award for Best Story, has fascinating Biblical and Shakespearean overtones. The film is a loose remake of HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949) which starred Edward G. Robinson.

BROKEN LANCE runs 96 minutes and was filmed in color. It was shot in Arizona, as well as at ranches in Chatsworth and Calabasas, California. The film was directed by Edward Dmytryk, who also directed CROSSFIRE, reviewed here in January.

It's available on a DVD which includes both the widescreen and fullscreen versions. It's also available in a pan and scan video. I caught the film on video and the panning and scanning is very noticeable; if possible I recommend watching the letterboxed DVD so you can enjoy the original CinemaScope picture.

2018 Update: I had the wonderful opportunity to see BROKEN LANCE at the 29th Lone Pine Film Festival with Robert Wagner present for a post-film discussion.


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