Tough guy Robert Mitchum stalks a panther that killed his younger brother (William Hopper) while his snowbound family begins to disintegrate. Directed by four-time Oscar nominee William Wellman ("The Ox-Bow Incident," "The High and The Mighty").
You never see the title character in William Wellman's Track of the Cat
--a black panther terrorizing the land and herd of a frontier family--which is just one of the many bold strokes of this ambitious movie. The intruder claims not merely cattle but also one family member, so middle son (and unquestioned alpha male) Robert Mitchum goes out in the dead of winter to bag the cat. Meanwhile, the tensions inside the ranch house are distilled from Greek tragedy with a large dollop of Freud: harridan mother Beulah Bondi (good performance) wants her sons to remain unmarried, despite the fact that youngest boy Tab Hunter has fallen for a forward lass played by Diana Lynn. Teresa Wright--almost unrecognizable as the spinster sister--speaks for sanity and modern thinking. Track
is the second film Wellman made from a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark; the first was The Ox-Bow Incident
, that equally serious and offbeat Western about lynch violence. For this one, Wellman admitted that one of his motivations was a long-held desire to make a color film that was essentially black-and-white; the snowy backdrops of the exteriors (shot spectacularly around Washington State's Mount Rainier) offered that chance. It's a very exactingly directed movie, both indoors and out, and qualifies as an experiment in mise-en-scene; but experiments in mise-en-scene have rarely translated into box-office success, and Track of the Cat
was no exception. One problem: despite Mitchum's robust presence, his solitary journey (which could be covered in interior monologue in a novel) is rather inscrutable. The spiky script is by A.I. Bezzerides, who would do Kiss Me, Deadly
a year later. By the way, Wellman later regretted not showing the cat--but he was right the first time. It's an eerie touch in a movie that gets under your skin. --Robert Horton