A boy haunted by nightmares about the night his entire family was murdered is brought up by a neighboring family in the 1880s. He falls for his lovely adoptive sister but his nasty adoptive brother and mysterious uncle want him dead.
After his family is murdered in the 1880s, orphan Jeb Rand (Robert Mitchum) is raised by the Callum family on their nearby horse ranch. He remains haunted by this childhood trauma in a recurring nightmare of flashing spurs and confinement inside a trap door as his family is slaughtered. Widow Callum (Dame Judith Anderson) does her best to make Jeb feel loved as he is growing up, but the young man stubbornly maintains a sense of his own identity. While he has great affection for his foster-sister Thor (Teresa Wright), his relationship with her brother Adam (John Rodney) is tenuous at best, especially when Jeb blames him for shooting a colt that he was riding. Although Mrs. Callum blames the incident on deer hunters, she is aware that the it was actually the attempted murder of the youngster by her brother-in-law Grant (Dean Jagger), a shadowy figure who, for vague reasons, is determined to harm Jeb. Jeb loses a coin flip with Adam, and becomes the designated family volunteer to fight ...Written by
When Jeb escapes from his homestead in the dead of night, and is pursued by the Callums in a horse race, the scene suddenly shifts from night to day as Jeb attempts to shake off those chasing him. See more »
There was a black dog riding my back and yours.
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`Pursued' is ranked among Walsh's best westerns. It's inferior to `Colorado Territory' (probably Walsh's best), but forms a trilogy of underrated masterpieces with `Along the great divide' and `Gun fury'.
This peculiar film incorporates elements of the film noir, a genre frequently visited by the director. The story unfolds through a series of flashbacks in which the hero Jeb Rand (Robert Mitchum) struggles to evoke an obscure incident of his early childhood. This memory might give him the key to deal with a series of tragedies that take place one after the other with no apparent reason.
The film loses its logic early on, and we are so engaged in Walsh's storytelling, that we don't mind. Nothing makes sense here. Everything is disconnected, from Theresa Wright's progression into blind revenge (she wants to marry Jeb to shoot him on his wedding night), to Micthum's stoic acceptance of his misfortunes. All might be dictated by luck (the flipping of the coin, the casino), but that luck can be manipulated too (the wheel of fortune incident, later picked up by Lang in `Rancho Notorious').
This is not John Ford's contemporary universe ruled by tradition and heroism. In fact, the film's tone anticipates the pessimistic mood of Ford's `The Searchers'. `Pursued' is like a farewell to classicism, is turning away from an era fell down like the hero's cottage. Walsh is opening the door to a new expressionism in western, eventually taken over by Mann and Boetticher.
In this film, whose dramatic structure is as pure as a greek tragedy, even celebrations are sad, as when Mitch comes as a hero of war. Right during the welcoming there's plotting against him going on. The star here is James Wong Howe's photography. The interiors are sombre, the exteriors are wasted. The night scenes are as nocturne as any western ever portrayed. The funeral scene is pure pictorial ciaroscure. The overwhelming landscape of Gallup, New Mexico (used again in `Colorado Territory') acquire a dramatic and oppressive meaning, significant enough to match Ford's utilization of Monument Valley.
Walsh's direction turns a standard script into a sordid exploration of human misery. It could have take the form of a dream (Mitchum appears like a sleepwalker throughout the entire film), but thanks to Howe's outstanding photo and Steiner's powerful score, it developed into a nightmare.
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