Directed by Raoul Walsh
Written by Niven Busch
Admittedly, this marathon has not exactly gone as I have planned. That is not to say I haven’t enjoyed it a great deal. I have. That is not to say I haven’t discovered some great films. I have. That is also not to say I am not making the progress I thought I would. This was always going to be a long long long marathon. Rather, I seem to be hot and cold with this set of genre movies, insomuch as I watch a chunk of them, and then my attention is taken elsewhere in the cinematic realm. It is now November, and what that means is awards season. The time of year when tons and tons of very interesting and often very good movies comes out. This will be the penultimate Western review this calendar year, and I will return to the great West upon the new year, and hopefully have greater success staying on task with this ambitious marathon, which has already rewarded me with spectacular films.
Jeb Rand (Robert Mitchum) finds himself holed up in the cellar of his frontier home as a child, unaware of what had just taken place until Mrs. Callum (Judith Anderson) comes to discover the boy. Without a family, Jeb is then raised by the Callum’s, striking up a friendly relationship with Thor (Teresa Wright) and a rivalry with Adam (John Rodney), Mrs. Callum’s two birth children. Jeb always felt like an outcast in the Callum family, and after winning big in a casino, takes a partnership with the proprietor, Jake Dingle (Alan Hale). But while Jeb has always lived his life on the outskirts of morality, his innocence is perpetually put to the test, as someone always seems to be after him, someone always wanting to get the better of him. Jeb must persevere while coming to grips with what really happened to his family when he was a child.
Pursued is the third Western in the marathon directed by Raoul Walsh, who I feel is know for his genre films, and the first starring the incomparable Robert Mitchum, whose screen presence is undeniable. I don’t have much comment on how the pair works together, but I can say that Mitchum’s appearance is very welcome. He is just larger than life and turns out to be perfect casting for the role of Jeb Rand, a man always being pursued, and yet seemingly innocent. Mitchum has the type of smug face that is easy to hate, but he also has the talent that makes him hard not to like. That charm comes across here really well as he fills each room into which he walks, while also providing enough innocent swarm to understand why he may be pursued.
But what makes this film notable is that it is hardly a western at all. If anything, I might call it a noir. It certainly takes place in the west with saloons, horseback riding, gun fighting etc. Look, it qualifies no doubt. But might this be the first NOIR western? Jeb is a good man, but has his questionable past, and seems to always be eluding these unnamed pursuers.. The cinematography certainly feels very noir-ish, black and white, shrouded by shadows. Teresa Wright may not quite be a damsel in distress or femme fatale, but she, along with Judith Anderson, give off a certain vibe. And speaking of Judith Anderson, she is great here. I have seen her just a few times, but every time she has been great, playing some variation of a menacing aging woman. In Pursued, Anderson is also able to provide a depth of emotion, a sympathy, which makes hers a very impressive, layered performance.
All that said, all that intrigue, I feel as though the execution of the film lacked in many aspects. I never felt invested in Jeb, with too much mystery surrounding his aura. Look, the “surprise” seems well thought out, but with every nightmare and flashback, the reasoning seems to be crystal clear, eliminating any effect of surprise or reveal when the ending comes and Jeb is able to garner his revenge and justice. Raoul Walsh reveals his hand way too early and spends the rest of the film attempting to show off, but the trick is already spent. The film was less than subtle, making it painfully obvious the direction in which the film was moving, causing the perceived thrill and mystery to feel dead on arrival. Mitchum does all he can to carry the film, but the film is flawed at its foundation, making it nothing more than a Western footnote.