Friday, July 24, 2009


Delmer Daves is best-known for one of the first liberal plight-of-the-Indians movies, Broken Arrow. He had lived in Arizona amongst the Hopi and Navajo and although their situation in the modern world was of importance to him, the over-riding concern of his films, particularly following the formation of his own production company in 1951, was the examination of conflict presented in (modern) psychological terms, usually in a western setting. This was a popular development across all genres in the mid-1950’s, best exemplified in the western by Mann’s cycle, and for Daves realised most effectively in 3.10 to Yuma. The intense classicism of the plot, if a little overwrought, sets up like The Postman Always Rings Twice before morphing into Othello: Glenn Ford tumbles out of nowhere – like Cain’s Frank Chambers, a stranger with no past – and finds himself stopping a while at the isolated home and business of an older man with an attractive young wife, whose tempting availability causes him initially to consider leaving.

Ford’s stoic woodenness came into its own as he grew older and could pass for a strong and silent world-weariness which is useful here: much about Jubal “Jube” Troop is a mystery. But the narrative is driven by intense character psychology, of which the signposting tends to the obtrusive; when called upon to offer a glimpse behind the reticent and age-hardened carapace, Ford makes a good stab at a speech explaining his childhood trauma, even if he cannot prevent such unexpected expansiveness from jarring, with the significance of this “key” to his psychological make-up in any case diminished through an under-elaboration and vagueness of detail. Of course, Steiger’s Iago figure is no help to the cause of naturalism; often terrifically compelling and unnerving he plays here in his mannered and neurotic mode, in a way that sits uncomfortably with the period (although the similarly “modern” approach to adultery in the film is welcome). In turn, Ernest Borgnine suffers from his subsequent reputation as such an effective heavy, and fails to overcome the thinly-written role as “the most loved man in the valley”; whereas he had been touchingly believable in the previous year’s Marty, his carefree and child-like Shep Horgan is here too good to be true, and comes alive only as his eyes grow hard with a final eruption of anger. Although passion is muted throughout by method, impassivity and bluster, Valerie French does a decent job as Borgnine’s young wife, innocently lured from Canada by the promise of life with a big cattle rancher, and now stuck with the unforeseen and vast emptiness of their spread, and attendant and unremitting boredom; just desserts, perhaps, for her marrying a man of no interest to her beyond his material assets, but no wonder she looks for excitement elsewhere. The hints of a full-blown obsessional psychosis threaten to topple into the ludicrous, but for the most part the psychological undertow is dovetailed neatly into a well fleshed-out performance.

Support is provided by a charismatic Charles Bronson in a drastically underwritten role, and a rather drippy Felicia Farr is foisted upon Ford as his Mennonite love interest, despite his complete and obvious disinterest in matters (hetero)sexual. As with many other films of the HUAC era, the plight of the innocent man looms large, hounded by superior forces claiming theirs as the side of right, with even an aside on the informer (summarily dismissed as beneath contempt by both factions here). The liberal viewpoint with contemporaneous relevence, and the attempt at psychological realism in an adult melodrama evince a certain integrity which, coupled with a literate script and gorgeous Technicolor/Cinemascope location work in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, make the whole thing interesting and watchable, even if emotional involvement is kept largely at arm’s length by the psychological schema.

d Delmer Daves p William Fadiman sc Russel S. Hughes, Delmer Davies ph Charles Lawton Jr ed Al Clark ad Carl Anderson m David Raksin cast Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger, Valerie French, Felicia Farr, Basil Ruysdael, Noah Beery Jr, Charles Bronson, Jack Elam
(1956, USA, 100m)
posted by tom newth at

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