Track of the Cat (1954) DVD Apr 9, 2010 12:27:31 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Apr 9, 2010 12:27:31 GMT -5
That's one messed up, dysfunctional family.
Track of the Cat is a different kind of Western, something all it's own. Produced by John Wayne and his (then) production partner, Robert Fellows, this is more of a family relationship melodrama than a Western adventure movie.
While the original movie poster matched the movie fairly well (noting the love story angle fairly prominently), the original trailer emphasized the adventure aspects over the melodramatic relationship angles, and the DVD packaging follows that strategy fairly closely. That's understandable, given the general preferences of most Western fans, but it is a little misleading. Track of the Cat is a very well written movie, one based on a novel by the same author who wrote the original book for The Ox Bow Incident. Like The Ox Bow Incident, this is a fairly dark, grim story. Most of the characters are not all that likeable, and they don't all end well. Even the most likeable family member ends up dead.
The crux of the story is fairly simple. A mountain lion is repeatedly attacking a ranch family's cattle, and two of the three brothers head out into the snow to track the cat and kill it.
From there, it's a little more complicated. The family is primarily run by the middle brother, Curt Bridges, and his mother, the rather stern and harshly pious Ma Bridges. Curt is a farily honest man, but he also enjoys digging in and mocking his brothers. He is stubborn and strong willed, and he doesn't have a lot of sensitivity to his brothers' feelings. His older brother, Arthur, can deal with him just fine, but his younger brother, Harold, has a harder time with it and has built up a chip on his shoulder when it comes to Curt. Even so, he is fiercely loyal to Curt, in large part due to the fact that Curt is the one who has built up the family ranch thanks to his drive and know-how. Harold feels that he owes his brother his loyalty since he himself did very little to build the ranch (it was started when he was still a child). This becomes an issue as he has met the girl he wants to marry, and invited her to stay with his family for a time (with her sleeping in his sister's room).
While all of this is going on Pa Bridges is pretty much just sitting around getting drunk. He has several stashed bottles of whiskey hidden around the house, so when either Ma Bridges or his daughter, Grace, takes away the bottle he is currently drinking he always has a spare ready to go. Pa Bridges likes to see himslelf as something of a cultured gentleman, but once he starts drinking his memory is shot and he becomes easily confused and prone to angry outbursts on occasion. He has become the family buffoon, but he is largely unaware of that fact.
Oh, yeah - there's still that aggressive mountain lion out in the snow. The one that Curt and Arthur go after.
The film alternates back and forth between scenes of the brothers tracking the mountain lion, and the family back at home doing their best to fall apart.
There is little cohesiveness to the style and tone of the film between the melodramatic scenes at home and the scenes of the brothers tracking the cat. It's almost like watching two different movies and flipping the channel back and forth between them. Both stories are well told, but other than the fact that they show members of the same family during the same week the two stories have little in common.
Robert Mitchum is outstanding as Curt, and Beulah Bondi is almost frightening at Ma Bridges. In an era where divorce was rare it is easy to see how Pa Bridges turned to the bottle to cope with such a cranky, often mean sprited woman to whom he found himself stuck with. If she ever had any good looks they are long gone by this point, and her personality matches her appearance. She is unpleasant at best, and unbearable at worst. Harold's would be fiancee, Gwen, soon realizes that this family is extremely dysfunctional and unpleasant, and she begins to rethink her situation - then ends up manipulating Harold to a point (trying to get him to stand up for himself so that he can become a man worth marrying).
Another cast member worth noting is former Little Rascal, Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer as an old indian. He is completely unrecognizable under the old man makeup, and gives a fairly impressive performance.
As noted, the script by A.I. Bezzerides is very well written (outside of the dual nature of the story). The dialogue is excellent, and the scenes of the brothers tracking the cat are suspenseful. William Wellman, who directed such classics as Island in the Sky, The High and the Mighty (both with John Wayne), Battleground, Yellow Sky, The Ox Bow Incident, and the iconic The Public Enemy, does a fine, fine job here. The outdoor scenes are beautiful, and the indoor scenes are done with a sense of style.
Overall, despite the two storylines not quite meshing as well as intended, Track of the Cat is a very good movie. There is also a jaw dropping moment at a point in the movie when such an event is least expected (thus the fact that is is a jaw dropping moment). Credit should be given to the filmmakers for having the courage to go against Hollywood expectations and to take the story in that direction with a fair amount of the movie yet to play out (hell, that event would be a little surprising for a Hollywood movie even near the end of the story).
As for Paramount's Special Edition DVD of Track of the Cat, it's quite good. The picture quality is top notch, with very little digital noise or other shortcomings evident, and the sound is more than acceptable for a 1954 film. There are several related featurettes about the making of the movie and it's artistic merits, as well as an audio commentary, a featurette on director, William Wellman, and partial trailers for several John Wayne produced films.
Track of the Cat is very much a worthwhile film, and the DVD release is worthy of the designation, "Special Edition."