“Under that heathen blanket, there’s a full-blossomed woman built by the devil to drive men crazy!”
When her father (Herbert Marshall) is sentenced to death for murdering his Native American wife (Tilly Losch) and her lover (Sidney Blackmer), a young woman named Pearl (Jennifer Jones) goes to live on a ranch with a distant relative (Lillian Gish), Gish’s husband (Lionel Barrymore), and Gish’s two sons: reliable Jesse (Joseph Cotten) and reckless, sadistic Lewton (Gregory Peck). Peck immediately begins sexually harassing Jones, making it challenging for her to stay true to her goal of being a “good girl”; will marriage to a kind older suitor (Charles Bickford) rescue her from her dire straits?
It’s difficult to know where to begin in a critique of this racist, overwrought melodrama by director King Vidor, notorious for being writer-producer David O. Selznick’s failed attempt to follow-up on his blockbuster epic Gone With the Wind (1939). Jones’ characterization of “half-breed” Pearl is problematic from the get-go, portraying her as a wild creature in need of taming from white society — a voluptuous young hussie unable to resist her “primitive” urges. Peck’s villainous baddie — primed and supported by his equally heinous, racist father (Lionel Barrymore) — is a potent representation of all that’s wrong with (moneyed) male privilege: “Anybody who was my girl is still my girl” Peck snarls, after raping Pearl and refusing to marry her while also violently preventing her from seeing other men (he’s the epitome of a fatally abusive partner). Meanwhile, Cotten’s fair-minded aspiring politician seems much better off leaving town and finding a kind wife (Joan Tetzel); we’re glad he escapes. The most interesting — and unintentionally humorous — character is played by Walter Huston as a preacher known as “The Sinkiller” (!), who’s given some of the most memorable lines in the film — albeit ones which further solidify Pearl’s status as no more than an object of men’s lust: “Pearl, you’re curved in the flesh of temptation. Resistance is going to be a darn sight harder for you than females protected by the shape of sows.”
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Striking Technicolor cinematography
Nope; feel free to skip this one, unless you’re curious.