eyes make sense
(Pursued, Raoul Walsh / 1947)
can be ranked among Walshs best westerns. Its inferior to
"Colorado Territory" (probably Walshs best), but is
part of a trilogy of underrated masterpieces with "Along the great
divide" and "Gun fury".
This peculiar film incorporates elements of the film noir, a genre frequently
visited by the director. The story unfolds through a series of flashbacks
in which the hero Jeb Rand (Robert Mitchum) struggles to evoke an obscure
incident of his early childhood. This memory might give him the key
to deal with a series of tragedies that take place one after the other
with no apparent reason.
The film loses its logic early on, and we are so engaged in Walshs
storytelling, that we dont mind. Nothing makes sense here. Everything
is dually disconnected, from Theresa Wrights angelical progression
into furious revenge (she wants to marry Jeb just to shoot him during
the wedding night), to that loving mother saving the heir of the family
war and also leading him to destruction. If destiny can be dictated
by luck (the flipping of the coin to go to war, the casino), luck also
can be manipulated (the wheel of fortune incident, later picked up by
Lang in "Rancho Notorious"). The only thing that prevails
unmoved is Micthums stoic acceptance of his misfortunes.
This is not John Fords contemporary universe ruled by tradition
and heroism. In fact, the films tone anticipates the pessimistic
mood of Fords "The Searchers". "Pursued" is
like a farewell to classicism, is departing from an era that has decayed
like the heros cottage of his childhood. Walsh is showing the
way to a new expressionism in western, eventually taken over by Budd
Boetticher and Anthony Mann (all the motivations of James Stewarts
characters in his westerns with Mann are condensed in Mitchums
In this film, whose dramatic structure is as pristine as a greek tragedy,
the real star is James Wong Howes photography. The interiors are
sombre, the exteriors are wasted. The night scenes are as nocturne as
any western ever portrayed. The funeral is pure pictorial chiaroscuro.
The overwhelming landscape of Gallup, New Mexico (used again in "Colorado
Territory") acquire a dramatic and oppressive meaning, significant
enough to match Fords utilization of Monument Valley.
Walshs direction turns a somehow standard script into a sordid
exploration of human misery. It could have been an oniric tale but with
the aid of Howes outstanding photo and Steiners powerful
score, it developed into a nightmare. In such a scenario, it makes good
sense that "Sleepy Eyes" Mitchum appears like a sleepwalker
throughout the film.
© Mirko Stopar August 2003
all rights reserved