“May the Lord deliver us from evil — Red or White.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Hepburn retorts that while she may not be “Zachary born,” her “Ma says it’s no different than if [she] were flesh and blood,” and asks the man how he claims to know her. His response — “I am the sword of God, the fire and the vengeance, whereby the wrong shall be righted and the truth be told.” — sets the pace for the entire narrative, which is predicated on determining the presumably crucial issue of whether Hepburn’s Rachel is “Kiowa born” or was simply a White foundling taken in by the Zachary family. Indeed, racial tensions between the White settlers and the Native Kiowas remains high throughout, and the script doesn’t sugarcoat their precarious co-existence.
The early arrival of a piano on the wide prairie (purchased by Lancaster during a trip to Wichita) adds a Gothic flavor to the proceedings:
… and eventually becomes a potent symbol in the battle between Settlers and Natives. The presence of sharp-shooting Gish, meanwhile, immediately evokes memories of her comparable role as a protective mother figure in The Night of the Hunter (1955). While some have complained that Hepburn seems miscast, I disagree; and Lancaster is suitably toned-down for his role here as the hard-working, father-figure head of the family.
One of the major complaints made about the film is its “conventional” ending — and it’s true that a different outcome would have felt both more authentic and more satisfying; but overall, this remains an engaging western that’s worth at least a one-time look.
Note: Watch for John Saxon in a small role as an Indian horse trader known as Johnny Portugal.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments: