A person’s gotta find his own answers. We’re alone… each of us. Each in a different way.
Marking the first time Robert Mitchum took the lead in a picture, Raoul Walsh’s 1947 Pursued has always been labeled a Western and much of it is. But it is also so much more. It also, and perhaps more credibly, a tremendous bit of noir with some key psychological elements thrown in for good luck. It is extremely hard to find a reason not to like this movie – so don’t look for one.
Pursued tracks the life of Jeb Rand, who was orphaned and adopted by the Callum family. In his foster family are two other children, Adam (played by John Rodney), and Thor (Teresa Wright). There are some wonderful vignettes of typical family life as the family tries to make Jeb feel at home, but they are really never successful. He always feels that he is being chased – that something is right around the next corner waiting for him.
He has visions and incomplete memories of hiding in a storm cellar, seeing flashes and spurs rush before his eyes- and his eventual rescue by Mrs. Callum. We also become aware of a long running feud between the Rand and Grant families.
As the Spanish-American War dawns each family is asked to have one son volunteer for the service. Jeb and Adam decide to have sister Thor flip a coin to decide the winner. It is Jeb who must go and on leaving it is learned that they’ve both grown to have some extremely “fond” unrequited feelings for one another. And yes, grab your Freud, because he is here too!
Robert Mitchum returns a war hero and this widens an already increasing divide with Adam. Again the brothers flip a coin, this time to decide who will keep the ranch and who will leave- again Robert Mitchum looses. (You think he’d learn.) So he heads out and, after having to shoot Adam in self defense, enters the gambling business with Jake Dingle (Alan Hale). Hale has a small part but brings the depth you’d expect from such a great character actor.
After shooting another of her suitors under dubious circumstances, Robert Mitchum returns to the ranch, this time to court Teresa Wright. Gradually this goes well – but only because she has the idea to lead him on then kill him on their wedding night. At the moment of truth, she can’t and flips her emotions (again!) back to loving adoration of him.
It is this repeated switching of emotion which is perhaps the only drawback of the film, as it takes away a bit from the logical flow the rest of the picture has. Teresa Wright does as good a job as could be expected- the emotional turns are most unreasonable.
But it is really Robert Mitchum’s picture. In his first lead (well, excluding his hop-a-long pictures) he already demonstrates his signature perceived indifference to the world and failure to fit in- which to varying degrees applied to him for the balance of his life.
Even if you don’t like Westerns I think you will love this picture as, in my opinion, it is more of a noir thriller which happens to take place in the West. There are no Indian raids or cavalry charges among the plot points, but rather envy, greed, even perhaps incest.
An extremely strong showing as well by the strong cinematography – especially note the long shots where Robert Mitchum shoots brother Adam. All wonderfully matched to a strong Max Steiner score. For me Steiner is a hit or miss composer, as he did so many scores some definitely didn’t get that much of his attention. This one does and would rate among his better ones.
It truly isn’t surprising that both Martin Scorsese and Sergio Leone have cited Pursued as among their favorite films. Plus don’t you want to see the last film Jim Morrison saw before his death?
….Riders on the Storm.