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The son of a Texas cattle baron leaves prison seeking revenge on his three brothers. Directed by Edward Dmytryk.
Broken Lance is a noble entry in the trend of adult Westerns of the early 1950s, scoring on a couple of fronts: (1) as a multigenerational saga, with Shakespearian overtones, of a family bickering over a giant ranch, and (2) as a grown-up look at the dilemma of the Native American... its title perhaps inspired by the Indian-friendly Broken Arrow? Spencer Tracy stars as the blustery patriarch of a cattle spread, threatened by pollution from a nearby copper mine as well as the shiftiness of his older sons (Richard Widmark, Hugh O'Brian, and Earl Holliman). Tracy's bluff characterization--as ever, he seems to be yanking at the script like a cat unraveling a ball of yarn--carries the film effortlessly along. The central character is actually his youngest and wisest son, played by Robert Wagner, who's not especially convincing as the mixed-race issue of Tracy's second marriage, to an Indian woman (Oscar nominee Katy Jurado). Edward Dmytryk directs in a style that could be called "intelligent," which is another way of saying "not very exciting." The early CinemaScope probably accounts for some of the static set-ups, although there are exteriors that are breathtaking (watching this film in its full-screen version would be crazy). The cast is certainly tops; Widmark is overqualified to play a third lead, but who's complaining? Most memorable is the loving relationship between Tracy's cattleman and his Indian wife, although the subject of Native Americans is secondary here (check out The Devil's Doorway and Apache for more overt Fifties looks at the topic). Veteran screenwriter Philip Yordan won an Oscar for his "original story," a curious and long-defunct Academy Award category. --Robert Horton
- Includes widescreen anamorphic and full-screen formats
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A note to Amazon...obtain the original version with correct film ratio and I will again bookmark this film for viewing.
This story really hasn't aged well as the brainless racism that fuels the plot is all but gone now and without that it's really just another western, missing the level of action we've come to expect in most John Wayne adventures. The supporting cast were capable but not a lot more. Most of them ended up doing episodic television for the rest of their career.
Props are deserved for Edward Dmytryk's deft direction. Since I have no insight into what happened when the cameras were not rolling I'm going to presume that Tracy basically was left to do what he does, since he does it so well. And the rest of the cast performed at, or slightly above their pay grade. The one exception is Richard Widmark. I can't help thinking that he had just one speed. Grumpy. Or maybe even acrid. I've watched his performances nearly dismember otherwise decent films for me. There may be something about him that I don't get but his name on the credits always makes me think, "do I REALLY want to watch this?" Fortunately, he stayed well enough inside the lines as Ben Devereaux as to not scupper the show.
In sum, Broken Lance is worth watching for Spencer Tracy alone. And the good news is that all the rest is pretty decent so if you invest 90 minutes watching it you won't be disappointed. Especially if you love to watch Spencer Tracy.