Broken Lance (1954)

Fury of the West's Most Lawless Feud!

Cattle baron Matt Devereaux raids a copper smelter that is polluting his water, then divides his property among his sons. Son Joe takes responsibility for the raid and gets three years in prison. Matt dies from a stroke partly caused by his rebellious sons and when Joe gets out he plans revenge.

Edward Dmytryk Crafts The Western King Lear.
With both it being based on Shakespeare's King Lear and being a Western remake of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's tasty film noir, House of Strangers, Broken Lance had fine sources from which to work from. Throw in to the mixer that it stars Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark, Katy Jurado, Robert Wagner and Earl Holliman, and that Joseph MacDonald was director Edward Dmytryk's cinematographer of choice, well it's all set up to be a highly accomplished piece.
And it is!
Dmytryk's film tells the story of how the Devereaux family came to implode. Father Matt {Tracy}, is a tough no nonsense pioneer who after finding a copper smelter has polluted his water, illegally raids the copper mine with destructive vengeance. Matt has four sons, his three eldest are a disappointment to him, but his youngest, Joe, from his latest marriage to a Commanche woman {Jurado}, is untainted by his own bitterness. But it's Joe who takes the rap for the copper mine raid and gets sentenced to three years jail. When Joe comes out he finds that his brothers have driven his mother away and all but destroyed the family empire, including his father. Joe {Wagner} has scores to settle, especially with the oldest, and nastiest brother, Ben {Widmark}.
The screenplay comes from Richard Murphy, who, reworked Philip Yordan's House Of Strangers screenplay, bagging Yordan the Best Writing Oscar at the 1955 Academy Awards in the process. And it's not hard to see why. Murphy and Dmytryk have fused together a number of intelligent strands in their picture. Not merely a tale of vengeance that dallies with black sheep of the family like thematics, it also serves up racial prejudice issues, and those of greed and corruption. It's for sure what one would term a talky piece, tho the copper mine raid itself is a pulse raiser, but it's with the talk and how it's put together that makes Broken Lance worthy of its place on any "Adult Western" list. For its court room sequences and a memorable scene involving Tracy and Widmark alone it deserves praise from the genre faithful.
Acting wise there are very few disappointments. Tracy is terrific, as is Widmark, while the youthful Wagner gets away with the obvious problem of him playing a half Indian, by bringing an emotionally honest integrity to the role of Joe. Katy Jurado, who was Oscar nominated for supporting actress, is sweet and showing deft sadness in the thankless role of wife and mother, Señora Devereaux. The itches are with the others, thru no fault of their own really. Both Holliman and Hugh O'Brian as the other two brothers are practically observers in proceedings, both men never really getting to add some weight into the family drama. Jean Peters as Joe's love interest, Barbara, is an important character in the story, yet she's never fully formed. Minor problems aside tho, this is an engrossing and gorgeous picture. So with Leigh Harline's lyrical score complimenting MacDonald's sumptuous Arizona photography {the film was shot in Technicolor CinemaScope and sound mixed in 4-Track Stereo} try and see this on the best system you possibly can, because it's worth it. 8/10

20th Century Fox by Edward Dmytryk, Richard Murphy, Philip Yordan.
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters, Richard Widmark.

Genres: Adventure, Western

Keywords: prison sibling relationship patriarch rancher cattle


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