Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spencer Tracy doing a western

Spencer Tracy did most genres of film in his long career. This includes a few westerns, and one of those, Broken Lance, is coming on the Fox Movie Channel tomorrow at noon ET.

The movie starts with one of Tracy's sons, Joe Devereaux (Robert Wagner), being released from prison and going home to the family ranch. Dad died while he was in prison, and Joe's three half-brothers Ben (Richard Widmark), Mike (Hugh O'Brian), and Denny (Earl Holliman) are in charge, although the place is nowhere near the glory it was when Dad was running it. The three older brothers want Joe to leave forever, and offer him quite a bit of money to do so. Flash back to why they want him to leave....

It's now a few years earlier, and father Matt is still alive. He's running the ranch and married to second wife (and Joe's mother), an Indian woman played by Katy Jurado. Joe's three half-brothers resent their stepmother, and hate the way their father treats them for it. Dad, meanwhile, doesn't like the three older sons in no small part because they're such utter ingrates, to the point that they'll rustle his cattle to sell for money. Things take a turn for the worse when some of Matt's cattle fall ill and Matt discovers that it's a result of the copper mine dumping industrial waste into the water that goes through his ranch. It's off to the mine, and when the mine owner refuses to believe he could be causing the problem, the confrontation results in an attack that leaves several people injured, and Matt facing trial. Ben and his two younger brothers fix things so that Joe will take the rap for Matt, and Matt can pay the financial cost by transferring the ranch to them.

Spencer Tracy gives a fine performance. In fact, everybody in the cast is good. However, the movie as a whole comes up a bit short. Perhaps it's because of the plot, which can be a bit tough to follow at times. There's something about the ending that doesn't seem quite so satisfying, either. The whole thing just feels a bit off. It's not bad by any means; it's more that it probably could have been better. So don't let any of my negative views dissuade you from watching the movie.

Besides, Broken Lance was one of Fox's first westerns in the new Cinemascope process, and as such, it's lovely to look at. Never mind that Katy Jurado had an underrated earthy beauty about her, and Joe's love interest (Jean Peters) was also a more traditional beauty. Give it a look tomorrow, or watch it on DVD.

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