Release Date(s)1954 (November 10, 2015)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
Edward Dmytryk’s Broken Lance is the kind of movie Twentieth Century Fox was cranking out several times a year in the 1950s, a smart, beautiful, and idiosyncratic adult entertainment photographed in studio chief Daryl F. Zanuck’s favored Cinemascope format. At the time - alongside similarly excellent Fox product like Sam Fuller’s House of Bamboo and Forty Guns and Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life – I don’t know if it seemed all that remarkable, but viewed today, Broken Lance comes across as a bit miraculous. It delivers the goods as a mainstream Western while also digging deep in terms of psychology, allegory, and social commentary, without any one of its elements being compromised. The closest thing to it in the current American cinema is Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, which is being treated as a major event picture – in 1954, this kind of movie was just par for the course.
The story, based on Jerome Weidman’s novel I’ll Never Go Home Anymore, roughly follows King Lear in terms of plot: Spencer Tracy plays Matt Devereaux, a cattle rancher who drives his sons mercilessly until the family fractures and turns on him. The key figures in the family are Devereaux’s second wife (Katy Jurado), a Mexican; her and Matt’s “half-breed” son Joe (Robert Wagner), who is extremely devoted to his father; and the eldest son Ben (Richard Widmark), whose contentious relationship with his father leads to some of the roughest emotional confrontations this side of Ingmar Bergman. Indeed, the psychological acuity of the film feels more European (or at least American independent) at times than Hollywood – Dmytryk (who, having just been released from prison as a result of the blacklist, presumably knew something about betrayal and the dark side of human nature) directs his actors to some of the most subtle and powerful performances of their careers in a movie that earns comparison with the best of John Cassavetes in its most insightful moments.
Broken Lance would be essential viewing for the dysfunctional family material alone, but it also works as a rousing action film (by introducing a story involving Devereaux’s rivalry with another rancher) and as a potent exploration of America’s problems with race via the romance between Joe and the Governor’s daughter (Jean Peters). The Governor, by the way, is played by E.G. Marshall in one of the film’s many terrific performances – the supporting players here have as much depth and texture as the leads in most movies. All of this is set against the backdrop of a gorgeous American West, lovingly photographed by the legendary Joe MacDonald (My Darling Clementine, the aforementioned Bigger Than Life).
As for the transfer, Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray is simply perfect. Every detail in Dmytryk’s Cinemascope frame is clear and vibrant, with impeccable color reproduction and contrast. The blacks are rock solid and flesh tones consistent, and the image is matched by a robust surround track that vividly recreates the separation effects of the original release’s 4-track mag prints. As is customary on Twilight Time releases, an isolated music track is featured, along with a delightful commentary track by film historian Nick Redman and actor Earl Holliman, who plays one of Tracy’s sons. Their entertaining conversation is wide-ranging, touching not only on Broken Lance and Holliman’s career but the blacklist, the old studio system, and numerous other related topics. A pair of original theatrical trailers and a newsreel documenting the Academy Awards the year writer Philip Yordan won an Oscar for Lance round out this outstanding package.
- Jim Hemphill