“An Indian without land loses his soul; his heart withers.”
When Shoshone Civil War hero Lance Poole (Robert Taylor) returns home to find that he is no longer legally entitled to his land, he enlists the help of a sympathetic female lawyer (Paula Raymond).
- Anthony Mann Films
- Native Americans
- Race Relations
- Robert Taylor Films
Devil’s Doorway holds a special place in cinematic history, for two distinct reasons: it was Anthony Mann’s first western, and, along with Broken Arrow (released around the same time), it was the first western to depict Indians as worthy protagonists rather than savage villains. As always in Mann’s work, however, nothing is black-and-white: the sheepherders who are hoping to stake claims on Lance’s land have themselves been duped by an unscrupulous lawyer (Louis Calhern) into believing they won’t meet any resistance; meanwhile, Lance — though completely justified in his desire to defend his property — refuses to compromise until it’s too late.
Although Taylor is unconvincing as an Indian (he simply doesn’t look the part), he does a decent job portraying a decorated war hero who bitterly refuses to give in to unjust laws. Less impressive is Paula Raymond as the female lawyer Lance hires to assist him in his case; she’s all quivering lips and forlorn expressions, when surely any woman brave enough to become a lawyer during this early period in American history would have been made of tougher stuff. And while Louis Calhern is appropriately sinister as the racist lawyer determined to chase Lance off his land, he’s ultimately a one-dimensional baddie. Fortunately, the performances aren’t what really count here: the brave script, exciting action sequences, gorgeous cinematography, and historical relevance more than redeem this groundbreaking film.
P.S. Listen for Lance’s final line in the film: it’s a zinger.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Some exciting action sequences
- Beautiful cinematography of the American west
- A groundbreaking depiction of Native Americans as worthy protagonists
Yes. While it’s listed as a cult movie in the back of Peary’s book, it’s actually more relevant today for its historical importance.