“What you don’t remember doesn’t matter.”
After witnessing a traumatic event, an orphaned boy named Jeb (Ernest Severn) comes to live with his aunt (Judith Anderson) and cousins, Thor (Peggy Miller) and Adam (Charles Bates). Jeb (Robert Mitchum) and Adam (John Rodney) quickly become lifelong rivals, while Jeb and Thor (Teresa Wright) fall in love — but the presence of a menacing relative (Dean Jagger) threatens Jeb’s happiness, while fragmented memories from Jeb’s childhood continue to disturb his peace of mind.
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, the plot of this “engrossing, exceptionally well-made Raoul Walsh western” — written by screenwriter Niven Busch — has “traces of Wuthering Heights, Greek tragedies, and psychological thrillers”. The enduring question of why Jagger (“a great villain”) is so “obsessed with killing Mitchum” drives the menace-filled screenplay — and Anderson gives one of her most nuanced performances as the woman who possesses the carefully guarded answer to this question. As Peary points out, the “film benefits from a strong cast, well-rounded characters who have interesting motives for what they do, intelligent dialogue…, [and] believable period (late 1890s/early 1900s) flavor,” as well as “fast pacing” and exciting action sequences. While some scenes and performances (i.e., Wright’s) come across as overly melodramatic, they fit well within the overall spirit of this most “unusual western”, one reflective of growing cultural interest in psychology and the impact of childhood trauma on one’s later life.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Judith Anderson as Mrs. Callum
- James Wong Howe’s cinematography
Yes, as an affecting and unusual noir-western.