A Six Gun Is Also a Six Gun

The more time I spend with the work of Raoul Walsh, the less in love I am with “Pursued,” the 1947 psychological western that helped to make a star of Robert Mitchum. The film’s fatalistic flashback structure and ingrown family romance seem primarily to reflect the Freudian preoccupations of the scenarist, Niven Busch (“Duel in the Sun,” “The Furies”), who wrote the film as a vehicle for his wife, Teresa Wright, than Walsh’s own philosophy of individual self-determination, and the only sequences in this otherwise solemn, brooding film that reveal Walsh’s sense of fun are those too brief scenes involving Allan Hale as Mitchum’s partner in a gambling hall. But even if “Pursued” isn’t personal at its core, it does allow Walsh to develop some ideas with the cinematographer, James Wong Howe, with whom he advanced the art of deep focus staging so spectacuarly in the 1931 “Yellow Ticket,” and the new Blu-ray from Olive Films brings out, among other things, the qualities of the infrared photography that Howe used to create the film’s distinctively low, menacing western skies. There are plenty of Walshians who would disagree, of course — among them Jacques Lourcelles, who wrote “‘Pursued’ is one of the handful of films that definitively demonstrate the powers of the cinema.” So please, let us discuss . . .

Also this week in the New York Times, a look at Bertrand Tavernier’s 1980 “Death Watch,” starring a haunted Romy Schneider, and a quick appraisal of John Boorman’s thoroughly personal debut feature, the oddly depressive 1965 Dave Clark Five vehicle “Having a Wild Weekend.”

128 comments to A Six Gun Is Also a Six Gun

  • Brad Stevens

    I saw DEATH WATCH again earlier this year, and was also impressed by how much Tavernier managed to get right about the paths reality television would take. But what I find really striking about this film are the ways in which it anticipates Wim Wenders’ UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD. Both films are about an American man who has been involved in the creation of a revolutionary new camera. The man takes the camera and joins a European woman (who uses a wig to disguise her identity) on a lengthy journey which ends in an isolated location where they encounter a father figure played by Max Von Sydow. According to Wikipedia, UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD “developed after a series of discussions Wenders had with French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier”.

  • I’m still warming to Walsh – I’ve had a few false starts, but I love THE ROARING TWENTIES, GENTLEMAN JIM, and THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD – but I liked PURSUED very much, and wrote about it here: http://www.slantmagazine.com/dvd/review/pursued/2420

    Dave, it’s interesting that you didn’t write about Lang’s great SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR, also on a Blu-ray from Olive. The late ’40s certainly were a windfall for moviegoers interested in psychoanalysis and/or psychobabble in their genre fare.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, PURSUED may not be among my very favorite Walsh films, but I’d say that it is a pretty darn good example of what it is. I’d also say that it has quite a bit in common with THE MAN I LOVE, a film which has no shortage of solemn, brooding aspects, particularly within Ida Lupino’s nursing and torch bearing for another denizen of angst valley; Bruce Bennett as the tortured jazzman “San.” Ultimately, however, both films could have used more Alan Hale. But then again, what film couldn’t?

    Nevertheless, as Jaime points out, this was the mood of the times, and Walsh was never one to grumble about rolling with the punches. Even when it forced him to turn THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE into ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON.

    Personally, I have much less trouble with the era’s psychological dramas than with the dramas that had psychologists as characters. They were constantly being wheeled during this period to offer glib, pedantic Minute Rice social policy advice for all of us poor, unenlightened audience boobs. What the clergy was for conservative films of the period, psychiatrists were for liberal films. Such characters mar otherwise creditable films for me such as 14 HOURS and THE SNIPER. Dr. Carrington in THE THING can, among other things, be read as a reaction against these characters. And the Simon Oakland psychiatristr in PSYCHO can be seen as this character’s ultimate lampoon.

    And then, of course, there is REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. I won’t go there since there is no point in upsetting a lot of friends. But as PURSUED is to THE MAN I LOVE for Dave, so REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE is to JOHNNY GUITAR for me.

  • I wasn’t particularly aware of PURSUED prior to noting its inclusion on Pierre Rissient’s S&S ballot– so I’m pleased to see it available in a good edition so soon after having my curiosity piqued!

  • Johan Andreasson

    I agree with Jaime and Barry that PURSUED is good. You could see it as the missing link between “Wuthering Heights” and the westerns of Anthony Mann. And while it may lack the brooding jazz men of THE MAN I LOVE, it does have a singing Robert Mitchum.

  • PURSUED and WHITE HEAT provide some of the keys to the Raoul Walsh mystery. The tough action director had direct access to the psychological vulnerability of his Westerners and gangsters. It was Raoul Walsh who launched Humphrey Bogart to stardom in HIGH SIERRA – Bogart, the first Hollywood star whose image was based on existential Angst. And the better we realize Walsh’s contribution in this the more exciting it gets to revisit his star vehicles with Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, and his WWII sagas of the 1950s. There is much beyond the male bravado.

  • David hare

    Nothihg to do with Walsh but a momentous find:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muxchyT2u7E

    This is a falling off the chair moment. The crazy thing is this has been up there since Feb but we only found it yesterdayliterally 24 hours after a friend and I had finished recording a commentary track in Berlin for Gremillon’s Gueule d’Amour for a planned future custom release.

  • I also agree with Jaime and Barry that “Pursued” is good — just not very personal. It’s hard to imagine the same sensibility behind Teresa Wright’s hysterically cackling, castrating character, who wants to punish Mitchum by marrying him and then refusing to have sex with him, and the beautifully developed figure of fully independent, emotionally vulnerable, wised-up womanhood Walsh developed with Ida Lupino in “The Man I Love” the same year (and who found her echo in several Walsh women of the 1950s, including Jane Russell, Dorothy Malone and Eleanor Parker).

    Of course, there is much beyond the male bravado in Walsh, Antti, as you can see as far back as his first surviving feature, “Regeneration.” What I have trouble with in “Pursued” is not the neuroticism (though I don’t find the Mitchum character anywhere near as compelling or convincing in his angst as Bogart in “High Sierra,” who genuinely seems tortured by his outsider status, while Cagney in “White Heat” assumes the madness and runs with it — the ultimate Walsh hero propelled by his uncontainable energy), but the fashionable psychobabble with which Busch “explains” the drama — pretty much what Barry is objecting to in other films, but for some reason does not observe in this one.

    “Gardiens du phare” is a nice find, indeed, David Hare. The very low quality image suggests that it was taped from the screen at what the caption identifies as a screening at the Cinemateca Brasileira in August of 2011 (with the local equivalent of the Alloy Orchestra banging away offscreen). There’s an excerpt, with slightly higher quality, though an equally distracting modern score, here at Vimeo. Apparently the film itself is in the collection of the Cinematheque de Bretagne and is firmly in the public domain, so perhaps better copies will surface on video someday.

  • Encouraged by Dave Kehr’s rave review, watched the Gremillion box set. It’s A1.

    A starter list of subjects in the films of Jean Grémillon:

    Festivities (wedding feast: Remorques, costume ball: Lumière d’été, public celebration of aviation: Le Ciel est à vous, vision of the dance at the end: Pattes blanches)

    Working men in groups (tugboat sailors: Remorques, dam builders: Lumière d’été)
    Servants (hotel, chateau: Lumière d’été, serving woman: Pattes blanches)

    People who fail in the arts (painter: Lumière d’été, young piano student: Le Ciel est à vous)
    Money troubles (painter: Lumière d’été, couple and family: Le Ciel est à vous)

    People who move and change where they live (painter from hotel to chateau: Lumière d’été, family moves to new garage: Le Ciel est à vous)

    Romantic triangles (Remorques, Lumière d’été, Pattes blanches)
    Sinister romantic schemes (luring painter to chateau: Lumière d’été, Paul Bernard: Pattes blanches)

    Technology:
    Technological worlds (tugboat: Remorques, dam being built: Lumière d’été, aviation, garage: Le Ciel est à vous)
    Technological people glorified (tugboat Captain: Remorques, dam engineer: Lumière d’été, aviators: Le Ciel est à vous)
    Old-fashioned anti-technological people mocked (writer: Lumière d’été, heroine’s mother: Le Ciel est à vous)

    Architecture:
    Glass walls and doors (view of wedding feast: Remorques, hotel porch: Lumière d’été, garage apartment: Le Ciel est à vous)

  • Marilyn Moss

    Speaking of Raoul Walsh (once called the only non-neurotic director in Hollywood), let me brazenly re-insert my two cents and remind everyone that Raoul Walsh still needs a documentary! To that purpose please make a pledge at our campaign site at http://www.Indiegogo.com/raoulwalsh to ensure that he will get the great documentary he deserves! We have a long way to go but we know we can do this!

  • It is with relief that I read Dave Kehr’s review of Pursued.
    It is a good movie: richly imagined and developed.
    Yet all the psychological problems of the characters are hard to relate to (at least after 2 viewings over the years).
    So it is with relief to learn that Dave Kehr feels similar ambiguities.

    Pursued seems to make a pair with High Sierra in Walsh’s work. Both are moody, downbeat works, rich in atmosphere. Both are fables of sorts. In High Sierra, everything points the way towards the hero’s fast-approaching death. In Pursued, everything deals with the unreasoning hatred other people have for the hero, and their attempts to kill him. High Sierra deals with a morally guilty hero, whose actions cause his own problems. Pursued has a morally innocent hero, whose persecution comes from outside forces.

    Nothing in the story of Pursued, including the final revelations, ever builds up realistic motives that would account for this terrible persecution. Yet the story somehow seems emotionally compelling – even if it is never believable or realistic.

    Dave Kehr’s comments on Alan Hale also seem really relevant.

    Everything bad that happens to the hero, comes from his extended family, or from the heterosexual courting of the heroine by clerk.

    By contrast, everything good that happens to the hero, comes from male bonding. His war heroism, his warm reception home as a hero, his enthusiastic support from Jake Dingle (Alan Hale), and his treatment by an all-male jury, all come from men who have zero family ties with the hero.

    Male bonding is a traditional Walsh subject, usually seen in positive terms. But it is not always seen in such stark opposition to the family and heterosexuality, as it is in Pursued.

    It is hard to understand what motivates Jake Dingle’s support of the hero. It is as irrational and divorced from realism, as the hatred that so many of the other characters feel for the hero.

  • Marilyn Moss

    Re: the above, that Walsh was considered one of least neurotic directors in Hollywood, many eyebrows were raised when word spread that he was slated to direct PURSUED. Nevertheless, I am still a great fan of the results!

  • Barry Putterman

    Oh, I see the psychobabble in PURSUED Dave. The same way that I see John Huston’s sledgehammer through the Henry Hull character in HIGH SIERRA. Limiting factors to be sure, but you can’t have everything. The glory of Walsh is that you understand the “racing towards death” through the existential forward momentum of the characters’ actions despite whatever lecturing we get imposed form the sidelines.

    Agreed that the Teresa Wright character is not in the tradition of the Walshian heroine. Maybe we should understand her more along the lines of the Lupino character in THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT. (A character originated by Bette Davis in BORDERTOWN),

  • Barry, “They Drive by Night” is another example of a Walsh film to which he brought his talent but not his artistry — at least after the first half, when the “Bordertown” scenario kicks in and the emphasis shifts from Ann Sheridan’s self-confident sexuality to Bette Davis’s jittery psychosis. Like most Hollywood filmmakers, Walsh occasionally had to deal with material he couldn’t connect to — another example is his 1931 “The Man Who Came Back,” originally set up as a Gaynor-Farrell romance for Frank Borzage, but taken over by Walsh and turned into something intriguingly sordid but not very coherent.

    Apropos of nothing at all, I got to know Teresa Wright a little when she was performing with a friend of mine in a Chicago-area dinner theater production of “Morning’s at Seven” back in the 80s. When I asked her about “Pursued” she only shook her head and sighed, “Oh, Niven . . .”

  • Barry Putterman

    I wasn’t aware that THE MAN WHO CAME BACK was originally intended for Borzage. Maybe he could have made something worthwhile out of it. As a Walsh film, it would have needed 90 minutes of Alan Hale to make presentable. A friend of mine said that they should have done it as a musical.

    By the way, I just looked up THE MAN WHO CAME BACK on Imdb because I was curious about when the original stage play dated from (it seems like 1904, but is actually 1924). And, on the side, under “Related News’ was Podcast: Dave Kehr, Critic! 23 March 2011, 6:23 A.M., PDT MUBI. The internet is a wonderous thing.

  • It’s been a while since I last saw PURSUED which I have only seen twice anyway so I’m far from an expert, but what impressed me was Raoul Walsh’s sober approach to the uncanny subject. Also Robert Mitchum is unforgettable in this nightmare world like he is in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. First the hunted, then, the hunter.

    GARDIENS DE PHARE: the Cinémathèque de Bretagne print is very nice, but the definitive extant version of the masterpiece – with refined colour – belongs to the Komiya Collection, now held by National Film Center / The National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. That’s the version they showed in the Jean Grémillon tribute in Bologna last summer

  • Speaking of the wonders of the internet, Barry, our friend Rob Sweeney has posted a conversation on his TCM Movie Morlocks blog that he and I had after treating ourselves to Paul W.S. Anderson’s fabulous “Resident Evil: Retribution.” It’s a film with a 30 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes (no doubt influenced by the fact that Sony declined to screen the film for the press, thus clearly labeling it a stinker for the fiercely independent film critics of the world), so you know it has to be good. If Fritz Lang had worked in 3-D, the results would have looked something like this — and Milla Jovovich is definitely an axiom of the cinema.

  • Dave, you may or may not know that I, too, am a Paul WS Anderson fan, at least (with some wavering here and there) since EVENT HORIZON, so reading that conversation did my heart good. A great read.

    I felt bad that Joss Whedon had to suffer a little in order to sing Anderson’s praises – but on the other hand, I don’t think AVENGERS had Whedon putting his best foot forward. (Although I don’t begrudge him his unprecedented success.) For anyone curious about how and why Whedon is actually a really worthwhile director, possibly even a great one, I can throw out a dozen or more episodes from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, and FIREFLY… at least, that he personally directed. There’s also SERENITY (his first theatrical feature) and the short, musical web series, DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG. If I am not mistaken, all of the above is available through legitimate online resources such as Netflix. I sensed a not insignificant amount of personality leak into THE AVENGERS – compare it to THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA, which seemed to have been directed by nobody – but those other works made me a believer.

  • Alex

    I’m doubt if there’s any very compelling case for admiring the depthless boy’s own adventure mode of Dark Command, Desperate Journey, Captain Horatio Hornblower, Thief of Bagdad and Gentleman Jim or the Landmark Book historiography of They Died with Their Boots On to the formulaic depths of Pursued. Walsh was a technically skilled, big hearted Guys-Who-Make-Movies movie maker who stumbled into something more serious when he expressed a sense of macho madness directing White Heat and High Sierra, showed some passion for the (sdolescent light) histrorical epic with The Big Trail and expressed the romantic heart to match his sure-footed Classical Hollywood Cinema skills doing the vigorously delightful Strawberry Blonde.

  • Barry Lane

    Alex,

    All that your write may be so but I believe there is more to Walsh. The three Gable films, Tall Men, Band of Angels, King And Four Queens, are clearly about Gable’s mythology. This is particularly effective in The Tall Men. An all right epic about a cattle drive, but as a film setting Gable’s Ben Allison apart from the rest of us mortals, classic in feeling and execution.

  • It’s interesting to spot Walsh’s influence on contemporary cinema. Two examples that come mind: in “The Roaring Twenties” there is the angry James Cagney that returns to New York disillusioned from war just to find a job driving a taxi, which seems to anticipate Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver”; while the domineering mother in “White Heat” seems to be reflected in Eastwood’s “J.Edgar” (who has acknowledge his admiration for the Walsh film).

  • David Cohen

    Ma Jarrett would have made mincemeat out of J. Edgar Hoover’s mom. …

  • Barry Putterman

    A Walsh film worth considering in relation to PURSUED might be ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE; which is another sombre black & white western with a psychologically tortured hero (and a more typically Walshian heroine). No Alan Hale alas. But there is a splendid Ray Teal performance in a more expansive than usual role suitable to the occasion.

    A compare/contrast might be revealing as to why our host finds the first film to be relatively impersonal for the director as opposed to the universally admired (by Walshians) latter film.

  • jbryant

    I’m another Paul W.S. Anderson defender (though I haven’t seen RESIDENT EVIL 5 yet). Even with Dave, Jaime and Ignatiy Vishnavetsky aboard, it’s a lonely path. Unfortunately, Anderson’s highest profile defender seems to be Armond White, whose congenital contrarianism generates kneejerk dismissals even when he makes a good point. Of course, it doesn’t help that he can’t praise one artist without knocking another down — in this case, the similarly named Paul Thomas Anderson, whose THE MASTER opened the same weekend as RE5, creating an apparently irresistible opportunity for a “think piece.”

    I think part of the problem is that many critics (and viewers in general) don’t have much knowledge of, or interest in, cinematic language. Content is king. A ‘good story well told’ gets a pass, while visual sophistication in service of genre isn’t worthy of serious consideration, and may not even be noticed.

  • Barry L, am currently watching some late Walshes I hadn’t seen, or haven’t seen for a long time. THE KING & FOUR QUEENS (Walsh’s version of THE BEGUILED!) is very enjoyable, very much overlooked film. Thanks for mentioning it.

    A DISTANT TRUMPET makes an interesting counterpoint with CHEYENNE AUTUMN. Would need to resee both to comment further on that point. I’m not up on its production history (I skipped over the parts of Marilyn Moss’ book about the Walsh films I hadn’t seen yet) but there seems to be a big Walsh investment in the character of the old general — particularly the scene where James Gregory tries to do calisthenics to prove he’s fit enough for the solo mission. And Gregory is so loquacious he threatens to take over the movie from the inwardly directed nominal lead, Troy Donahue. (I hope no one posts that Donahue is a bad actor; I’m not up on my Daves and hadn’t seen him in a lead before, but he seemed right for the part.) Walsh devotes a great deal of the film to the Pleshette-McBain cat fight (complete with meows on the soundtrack) which links up I guess with the “Four Queens” set-up in the Gable picture.

    I saw PURSUED back about 1987 with Niven Busch doing the honors of introducing it. He implied (as I recall) that Walsh didn’t understand what he was filming. I say, Walsh knew exactly what he was filming, and what he was doing. He could do serene male figures… and tormented ones… with equal ease.

    David D, if Ma Jarrett equals J. Edgar’s mom, does Cody Jarrett equal J. Edgar? I missed the scene in Eastwood’s film where Judi Dench sits in Leonardo DiCaprio’s lap.

  • In a interview between Eastwood and Michael Henry Wilson it is brought up that his three favorite films are The Ox-Bow Incident, Paths of Glory, and White Heat.
    And I think that you can spot similarities between these films and some that Eastwood has acted in and directed.
    Regarding White Heat and J.Edgar, in both films, there is a very controlling mother that seems to be controlling their sons behavior, both who are powerful men, to do what she thinks is best, even though it has negative consequences.
    Though, as David and Gregg bring up, the comparison might not be the strongest. There is no competing with Ma Jarrett’s shrewdness.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, Ma Jarrett was shrewd enough to deal with half-wits like Big Ed, but let’s not forget that Verna got her in the back. This may account for Hoover’s subsequent behavior towards women. At least, that was the the psychiatrist’s explanation in the deleted scenes from J. EDGAR. (please see Gregg’s comment regarding Troy Donahue’s acting in relation to these alleged deleted scenes from J. EDGAR).

  • Noel Vera

    I was going to post “Dave, read your interview in Movie Morlocks–” but was beaten to it.

    Not a big, big fan of Anderson (WS, not Thomas), but I did like what he did in Soldier, a remake of Shane done with sly humor (I might actually prefer Anderson’s over Steven’s). Retribution I’d consider the best dance movie I’d seen in many a year. Good call.

  • Noel Vera

    And agree with Christley–Whedon knows how to shoot and stage dance and action (“Once More With Feeling” and Serenity), and writes decent dialogue, not to mention lyrics (“Once More,” Dr. Horrible). With Bordwell focusing on Nolan and critics praising Tony Scott and Anderson, he seems to have fallen by the wayside. Can’t be that big boxoffice behemoth he’d just directed, can it? Even Cameron (shudder) has fans.

  • Marilyn Moss

    Gregg…In my Walsh biography I include some of the reigning myth that Walsh kept Niven Busch around while he was filming PURSUED so that Busch could keep telling him “what the hell” the story was about. But I don’t buy it for a minute; Walsh knew what he was filming. For an insightful interviw with Busch about PURSUED and his other Hollywood adventures see Pat McGilligan’s great series BACKSTORY.

  • Marilyn Moss

    And Barry Lane, I’m with you on the films Walsh made with Gable, especially THE TALL MEN. They are very personal for Walsh, with Gable representing an almost larger-than-life masculinity for him–truly mythical. I say much about that in my Walsh bio…and more to come on that fascinating subject in my second Walsh outing on the films alone.

  • Alex

    Elmore Leonard receives National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

  • Barry Lane

    Thank you, Marilyn. Looking forward to learning more on this subject: Gable-Walsh.

  • jbryant

    Rob Sweeney, who had the conversation with Dave about Paul W.S. Anderson at Movie Morlocks, also has an interview with Anderson’s DP, Glen MacPherson, on Film Comment’s site: http://filmcomment.com/entry/interview-glenn-macpherson-3d-dp-resident-evil

  • Barry Putterman

    Following up on Brad’s comment about DEATH WATCH anticipating the path of reality television, it can be seen as part of a tradition of films such as THE TENTH VICTIM and REAL LIFE which do so.

    But even before the advent of television, the tensions between “the public’s right to know,” the persistence of gossip and the yearning for celebrity seems to be a continual theme in, at least, American culture. That theme could no doubt be traced back for hundreds of years, but for the 20th century imagination we could start with “The Front Page” and all of the various stage plays and films which grew out of it.

    Possibly the most astonishing of these works from the 20s-30s era is William K. Howard’s truly jaw-dropping THE TRIAL OF VIVIENNE WARE. Our host may want to enlarge on all of that film’s many componants. For the present, I will point to all of the slam-bang of the trial itself being shown in conjunction with a running radio broadcasting of it with Skeets Gallagher reporting as if it were a sports event (his name is Graham McNally in order to evoke sportscaster Graham McNamee) and Zasu Pitts adding fashion notes on the trial participants as color commentary.

  • Robert Garrick

    Barry’s comments early in this thread on movie psychiatrists give me an excuse to memorialize something that I noticed last week while watching the William Castle-directed “Crime Doctor’s Man Hunt” (1946), written by Leigh Brackett. I have been watching a lot of early Castle material on TCM lately as they’ve been showing the Crime Doctor and Whistler films.

    Anyway: “Crime Doctor’s Man Hunt” ends with one of those pithy one minute psychological summaries, delivered by Warner Baxter’s Crime Doctor himself. What’s interesting is how closely it parallels Simon Oakland’s famous “explanation” at the end of “Psycho.”

    As Baxter explains it in “Crime Doctor’s Man Hunt”–the murderer assumed the persona of a “dominant” late relative, even to the point of wearing a cheap wig, and committed murders while so done up. Baxter was asked if this was some sort of disguise, and he said “no,” that when the murderer assumed this alternate identity, she actually believed that she was the other person. You could almost hear Simon Oakland saying “uhhh, not exactly” in response to the remark that Norman Bates was “a transvestite.”

    The Castle film isn’t bad at all. There are some striking photographic effects, and Castle pushes the story along in an interesting way. His films are rarely boring.

    Barry offers the scientist in “The Thing” as an example of a movie know-it-all who receives his comeuppance. Another example would be Tom Conway’s shrink in Jacques Tourneur’s “Cat People” (1942).

  • Thanks for posting the link to the MacPherson interview, jbryant. I hope it’s of interest even to W.S. skeptics, since it shows how the 3D sausage gets made these days.

    And Jaime, I am also a great admirer of Whedon’s work on BUFFY, especially on “The Body”, which contains the most unsentimental view of death I’ve seen outside of Pialat’s THE MOUTH AGAPE. But that Whedon is nowhere to be found in THE AVENGERS, outside of his quips. And those quips, when divorced from actual, feeling characters (like those on BUFFY), come off as empty posturing.

  • Now we may perhaps to begin…

    … Psychoanalyzing THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS. If PURSUED was scripted under the sign of “dollar book Freud” such self-awareness was most likely absent from the screenplay by Richard Alan Simmons and Margaret Fitts, from her story. (Fitts, who died this year, also wrote STARS IN MY CROWN and MOONFLEET. She WAS a Stanford grad, so clearly was highly educated and as such would have known of Freud. Simmons’ credits include FEMALE ON THE BEACH, SKIN GAME and JUGGERNAUT.) The film was produced by Gable’s own production company, so it may be seen as projecting Gable’s own self-image as a star in his wintry late years: there’s plenty of snow on the roof but the plot is driven by his irresistible magnetism for the ladies.

    There are actually FIVE Queens, the fifth being Ma McDade/Jo Van Fleet’s matriarch. (Van Fleet was actually 41, fifteen years younger than Gable, but she made a nice career out of playing such women, as in EAST OF EDEN and WILD RIVER.) The set-up of the film is intriguing: Ma McDade rules over “Wagon Mound,” a desolated cantina. She lives with and dominates four women, the wives they all say of her four outlaw sons. Three of the sons are known to be dead, after a spectacular robbery which netted some $100,000 in gold – hidden by Ma somewhere on the property. But she doesn’t know which son survived, so she keeps the gold and all four women on call, ready for him when he returns. It’s like roulette for the women: at any time one of the four may get rich and get their husband back. So they stay.

    The four women represent four different “types”: Sabina/ Eleanor Parker is the redheaded smart one; Ruby/Jean Willes is firey, dark haired, and sexually aggressive; Birdie/Barbara Nichols a blonde, sweet, not bright, given to overtly sexualized display in the model of Monroe and Mansfield; and finally there is Oralie/Sara Shane, a quasi-virginal nice girl, the only one to wear widows weeds. Ma berates all of them as worthless, only out for gold; she’s not a nurturing mother to “her” girls, but rather loyal only to the absent son (whichever one it was who survived). But she also recognizes her sons as bad. Ma/Margaret Wicherly in WHITE HEAT is a good parallel, as she is insanely loyal to her insane evil son (James Cagney), while rude to his slatternly wife (Virginia Mayo). As in THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS, Wycherly and Mayo spend a good deal of time together waiting for Cagney to appear; and the three of them also spend time in hideouts, floating “Wagon Mounds” somewhere in the modern west. (Another comparable character: Agnes Moorhead as the “madame” in THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER.)

    Dan Kehoe/Gable is a conman who fakes being pursued (and fakes, to Ma, having spoken to one of the sons) in order to hide out on the property. Ma shoots him [Queen checks King] and he takes a few days to heal up, using the time to scout the property and romance all the women. He sleeps with (it’s implied in this Code-era movie) two of them, bad girl Ruby (who possessively pulls a knife on him afterwards, which he easily takes away) and good girl Oralie, who is slapped hard by Ma when she confesses. Punishments administered: the King punishes the bad girl, Ma the good girl. The “sexy girl” (Birdie) is ignored, despite her showgirl displays. But it’s the smart girl who has actually figured out where the gold is – Sabina has only been waiting for “a pair of strong male arms” to come help her steal them. The two leave with the money [King checkmates Queen].

    It’s an elegant pattern, though somewhat disconcerting, as we have made perhaps an emotional investment in Ma’s futile wait. (As well as the fate of the good girl who offers romantic love to Kehoe, as opposed to Sabina’s bargaining. The romance of Kehoe and Sabina is a transaction, sealed by both of them as they both wait for each other at different times with all of the money, but don’t run away with it – honor among thieves.) Here’s where the psychoanalysis comes in. Kehoe can be seen as a traveling therapist who administers a harsh cure to all five of the women. This is made explicit when, just before leaving, he gives a speech telling all five just what he thinks of them. One way or another their two years enchantment in a matriarchal state are over. Kehoe directs them as to what they should do in the future.

    Even more explicit is the image of a prostrate, devastated Ma at the empty grave from which Kehoe and Sabina have extracted the money. It’s the last we see of her as she lies near a big gaping hole in the ground, the very image of the “big O” (Big Other, the object of desire which “doesn’t exist”) the Lacanian Slavoj Zizek talks about in his various writings. Someone more versed in Freud or Lacan than I could fill in this analysis by discussing the no-doubt heavily laden imagery of gold hidden in a grave, guarded by an elderly woman and her four enchanted thralls, liberated by a libidinous patriarchal “king.” And much more could be made of the life-consuming bet all five women are buried alive inside (“Wagon Mound” indeed), waiting endlessly for a message to come from the missing son/husband. (There’s a lot of discussion of signals to be given or made by bells and lights.) That message will never come, for as Sabina discloses to Kehoe in the last act, the fourth son is dead as well. (Ma’s and the women’s Big Other, which doesn’t exist.) The wait has been always already futile. For all I know someone has already written this analysis (I don’t have my copy handy of the EFF book on Raoul Walsh, published in 1974 and full of feminist/psychoanalytical readings of PURSUED and of MAMIE STOVER, among others). My point is unlike these readings critical however of psychoanalysis in film criticism.

    Later the same evening when I finished THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS I caught a few minutes of Cronenberg’s A MOST DANGEROUS METHOD on cable. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen, bearded, cigared) is growling to Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) about the need to build psychoanalysis through method and strategy, by winning supporters. I was reminded of how much of a con game psychoanalysis is, built on dubious assumptions, ratified by dogmatic assertions, bullied into prominence by Freud’s skillful empire building, to the point where it is culturally dominant by the mid-twentieth century, inflecting even mainstream Hollywood films by un-analyzed filmmakers, such as in Walsh’s PURSUED. Jacques Lacan was an even bigger con artist than Freud – I have read Elisabeth Roudinesco’s biography, which among other things mentioned how his celebrated theories of “the mirror stage” were based on an application to humans of some early 1930s experiments with monkeys, and haven’t been ratified by independent scientific study. No matter, Lacan’s peculiar version of Freud swept all before it in at least some arenas of film study back in the 1970s, and lingers today with Zizek’s popularity. (And Zizek is more than willing to play the clown in his public persona, as in the film he appears in, THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO HITCHCOCK.)

    Kehoe, Freud and Lacan are all con artists. But psychoanalysis, at least in its “talking cure” mode, can be very effective therapy (as scientific studies have shown recently), and it’s a “talking cure” that Kehoe administers to the sleeping beauties of Wagon Mound. (He also has sex with some of his patients, just like Carl Jung!) And he surgically removes the Big Other/Bad Object that has imprisoned the women, making him a traveling surgeon as well. None of this, I dare say, was a conscious decision on Walsh’s part, or was intended by the screenwriters or by Gable, but the presence of this material in a neglected film is just another example of the riches to be found in a popular art.

  • dm494

    Gregg, whatever the merits of the Cronenberg-Christopher Hampton movie you bring up, I can’t agree with you about Freud. Freud fancied himself a scientist, but he was really a literary thinker, a mythmaker with an excellent prose style. Some of his ideas are suggestive for the development of real scientific theories, some are not, and his doctrines had a huge social impact for highlighting what seems smashingly obvious now, which is that sex is extremely important in human life and, for most people, has a lot to do with their happiness. He wasn’t a con man or, at any rate, he was no more of a con man than many real scientists, since bullying, duplicitous maneuvers, exclusionism, and the cultivation of followers are all par for the course in science–as they are in plenty of other fields as well. Check out the acrimonious dispute between the mathematicians David Hilbert and L.E.J. Brouwer, or the strategy employed by the evolutionary biologist George Price to get one of his papers published. Lee Smolin in his book The Trouble with Physics describes the difficulties encountered by physicists who don’t subscribe to string theory, and David Bohm’s “pilot wave” interpretation of quantum physics was outright dismissed for years by many more mainstream physicists whose objections to it revealed little familiarity with the idea being criticized–the scientists in this case were not adhering to the ideals of rationality members of the scientific community like to profess. Noam Chomsky is notorious for his guru-like status among mainstream theoretical linguists, and there are outlier linguists who can’t forgive Chomsky for how they feel he treated them in the 1970s, during the “linguistics wars”. Not that being marginalized is necessarily a great thing–there’s a fine line between being a maverick and a crackpot, and one can devolve into the other, as you can see, for example, in the case of Lynn Margulis.

    Blaming Freud for Lacan is like blaming Darwin for people who think Darwinism means that humans descended gorillas. It’s regrettable that Lacan was a part of film studies–then again, it’s regrettable that Lacan was a part of anything, and the deliberate opacity of his prose–a sure sign of intellectual chicanery–makes reading a biography unnecessary for recognizing that he really was a con artist.

    I wish I could say something substantial about A DANGEROUS METHOD, but like you I only saw a little of it. I thought Mortenson’s Freud was impressive, whereas Keira Knightley’s performance overdid the neurotic tics and hammered the Russian (?) accent. And Cronenberg’s mise en scene–all twenty five minutes that I watched–struck me as being at once pedestrian and antiseptic. But I can’t be fair to him without a full viewing.

  • Alex

    dm494,

    A DANGEROUS METHOD may be the first dull Cronenberg film — as flat as such flubbed Huston as FREUD — but Keira Knightley, though she may be a wooden perfoRmer –tics and all– has perhaps stroingest jaw of any beauty in film history — indeed MAY be the greatest of all screen beauties for those who cherish a strong jaw line.

    (Apologies to those who were less than enthralled by the car wash scene in CRASH.)

  • DM, I’d rather talk about Walsh than Freud, but I think the key phrase in your comments (much of which I agree with, as with the comments on the herd mentality of scientists) is “Freud fancied himself a scientist.” Was he sincere? Let’s say that he was… but did he, say, drop his theory that his patients had actually undergone childhood sexual assault… in favor of believing that they had imagined/wished it… because he honestly felt this was the case… because his theories couldn’t advance without this change… because he was meeting too much opposition… because the evidence led him there… because he sincerely wished to disbelieve the evidence of his own patients? Some or all of the above is likely true, but I always found it cruelly ironic that feminist film theory in the 1970s embraced Freud when the currency of his theories had so flagrantly dismissed the real suffering of real children.

  • Robert, I wouldn’t exactly deny THE AVENGERS as much as you – to me the degree of personality comes into sharp relief when you look at how Branagh and Johnston handled their assignments.

  • With a blog entry title like this a psychoanalytic discussion was perhaps unavoidable… I have never understood Lacan, and find Zizek an agent provocateur. “I can always deal with my enemies, but with my friends I’m in trouble”, Freud said. In Finland there is a long tradition since the 1920s that psychoanalysts themselves are profoundly interested in culture, including movies, and can also write very well about films, bringing new insights into them. Their approach stems from their daily hard work with disturbing cases, often beyond our wildest fantasies. They are committed to the duty of medical confidentiality, but supervision from a senior analyst helps them deal with the most disturbing cases. And yes, they are interested in discussing movies because of urgent reasons. Although what they experience in their profession is more wild and terrible than anything we see in the movies. I think Freud saw himself as an explorer who had opened up new ground, and he was a man of science who was expecting his teachings to be superseded sooner or later. But he was confident that nobody who had understood his insight in THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS could ever ignore it. He studied his critics carefully and with a bit of resignation expressed a hope that they would read his book again… or at all.

    Digressing: last night I saw a masterpiece, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD directed by Benh Zeitlin, the opening gala movie of the Helsinki Film Festival / Love & Anarchy celebrating their 25th anniversary. True poetry, human passion, concern for the state of the world. HOLY MOTORS and MARGARET are also on the agenda.

  • Tony Williams

    Gregg, Feminist film theory of the 1970s did not embrace Freud as Julia LeSage found out in her critique of Freud that appeared in SCREEN and became rebutted by the editorial board. Julet Mitchell was the one feminist critic who did champion Freud and suggest more complex ways of reading his work. However, I think you are on the right track in your critiques of charlatans such as Lacan and Zizek (who woukd have been the object of an Andrew Britton critique had he lived). We must remember that Freud was a man of his time and did not follow through the critiques of actual child abuse that recent scholars have noted to their logical conclusions. Freud still remains relevant as long as modifications based on scientific data are made. By contast, Zizek is little better than a charlatan playing to the gallery in a stand-up comic performance used by a grauate student in my last ever SCMS conference in 1990 that turned me off that Society for good. I forget the name (at this time of night) who the scholar was who critiqued Freud and was banned from the archives (a common situation for whoever rocks the boat” -JEFFREY MASOON? (“Mein Fuhrer, I can walk”/remember) – that affects everyone of us who dares critique an academic institutional thesis but my Freudian “return of the repressed” epistemological break is designed to show that issues are far more complex. Thank you again got your stimumuating posts.

  • Tony, your comments above (“who the scholar was who critiqued Freud and was banned from the archives”) refer to Jeffrey Masson, whose attack on Freud over the child abuse/”seduction” issue was much in the news in the 1980s. Robin Wood, for one, continued to insist that Freud was a great radical thinker after this, but Robin also wrote favorably of Freud’s critic on this specific topic, Alice Miller, in a late essay. Masson, meanwhile, suffered a demolition job from Janet Malcolm for his presumption, which is off topic here save Malcolm in turn is thoroughly critiqued by the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris in his new book on the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case.

    Slightly surprised by all the Zizek-hate; to me, he’s like Freud in that he produces interesting ideas and concepts that can offer new insights into a film. I was completely baffled by the sudden, harsh ending of THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS until the image of Ma McDade beside the gaping grave reminded me of Zizek’s “Big O.” I was subsequently able to produce a coherent reading of the film that “works” at least for me in explaining it. Whether or not there actually IS a “Big O” is another question. Similarly, very many of Freud’s concepts, not least of which is the “return of the repressed” which Tony mentions, are very valuable and provocative. But, first do no harm. Perhaps Lacan’s “mirror stage” is only a handy metaphor, but it was taken as true by say Laura Mulvey in her incredibly influential essay “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema.” If Lacan’s notions are unfounded then reputations totter, and forty years of film theory will need to be redone.

    I own but don’t have handy back issues of Screen that I could use to further discuss the overlap of 1970s feminism and psychoanalysis; and I also have Andrew Britton’s essay on PURSUED which gets into some of these issues as well, but again not handy. (The most commonly reprinted version of that essay, the one I DO have in arm’s reach, leaves out Britton’s material on psychoanalysis and Screen theory, alas.) So I will limit myself here to a further comment on Zizek. The cognitive film scholar David Bordwell performs a very thorough demolition job on him, and more generally psychoanalytic theory, in his book “Figures Traced in Light” and also in this essay: http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/zizek.php

    There is much here that I agree with, although including a nasty attack on Zizek’s personal appearance isn’t one of them. To make a complex argument very quickly, then, Bordwell is the fox here, who knows many things, and is right about them; but Zizek is the hedgehog, who only knows one thing. He may be wrong about everything else, but he’s right about this one big thing. For what I’ve read of Bordwell’s very extensive body of work indicates that he and his fellow cognitive scholars have little or no use for Freud’s great discovery, the unconscious. If you read Bordwell, or his bud Noel Carroll, on narrative theory, they presume intelligent, alert spectators who rationally weigh and judge the various narrative options presented them. (See for this Carroll’s “erotetic model of storytelling” in his “Mystifying Movies,” where viewers mentally ask questions as the narrative proceeds, the film answering them as it goes.) This may be true of many audience members, at least some of the time, and is of course a welcome break from Screen-era spectatorship theory, which posits a passive, easily manipulated meat puppet of a spectator. However, cognitive theory – at least as presented by Bordwell and Carroll – ignores the irrational, the unconscious, all the motives viewers (and artists) may not be consciously aware of. My strictures against Freud still give him all due credit for setting foot on that continent (as Viggo puts it in Cronenberg’s film). Bordwell’s essay asks, why not a Third Way (his) in film theory. And I say, we need a Fourth Way too.

  • Tony Williams

    Gregg, I agree we need a Fourth Way and the feminist scholar whose name I was trying to remember late last night is Juliet Mitchell whose 1970 FEMINISM AND PSYCHOANLYSIS defended Freud against the majority of feminist who opposed his theories. Mulvey’s work has been subjected to much criticism over the decades and it is to her credit that she has revised and extended her original thesis. But most cite her “Visual Pleasure” essay as if it is holy writ engraved in stone and never bother to read her later work, especially “Changes”, and criticisms of the 1975 thesis made by D.N. Rodowick in his “Difficulty of Difference” monograph.

    As Wisconsin-Milwaukee scholar Patrice Petro once said at a conference, “I am NOT a bleeding wound” and her JOYLESS STREETS critique of Mulvey in the light of Weimar Cinema is also stimulating reading.

    However, one would not expect cognition to give any recognition to the unconscious but this is due to its reaction against SLAB (Saussure/Lacan/Althusser/Barthes) motivated theory and Carroll’s books on classical and post-classical film theory provided welcome reading when I was struggling with teaching theory in a film production department over 25 years ago (and it was part of the syllabus). Fortunateley, as other have pointed out on this thread before, things have now changed and mostly for the better.

    Zizek has also received criticism by contributors to wsws.org. who have attended his open lectures and question his enthusiastic staements about Hitler and Stalin as well as his condemnation of the Occupy movement. Even as we debate the field is changing as it should but the days of SLAB are long gone and close readings of film are now returning, something condemned by SCREEN and when they attempted them the results were abysmal as the AMERICAN GRAFFITI example revealed.

  • Alex Hicks

    Hard for Freud to qualify as full-fledged scientist when he had to rely on observation and reports from introspection for what were both (a) pheomena beyond ethical application of the experimental method and (b) substantially unobservable physiological phenomena beyond objective measurment in his times.

    Still, broad insights from Freud (e.g., some disporportionate importance of very early “others “like Mom and Dad) have passed into the conventional wisdom of scientists and relatively enlightened publics. Indeed, Freud’s conception of the relations of therapist (e.g., transference) to patient endures. And Freud may never have slipped into anything so foolish as Jung’s confusions of culture and mind. (Might we indeed have crosses and swashtika’s lodged in out in soem univeral mind or even in our brains?)

    Easy to belittle the good faith of a fellow out of a time when writers of uncertain scientific credential still might harbor prejudices.

    One strength of Cronenberg’s A DANGEROUS METHOD is a strong sense of history.

    “Freud and feminism” makes for a nice topic in the “anxiety of influence.”

    A nice case of good use of Freudian formula in film is MARNIE; a nice case of a Freudian sort of insightfulness in film BELLE DE JEUR — or that dream of a good side of beef in LOS OLVIDADOS.

  • Blake Lucas

    [I need to beg a little indulgence with this, because work done on my computer has left me unable to copy and paste until I get that technician back here to correct the problem. So I’m having to rely on reading Dave’s piece and intro several times along with some of the comments that have followed and will reference as accurately as I can now that I’m writing this without being able to directly quote from those.]
    ***

    Let me preface by saying I appreciate an invitation to discuss PURSUED and acknowledgement which allows there may be other points of view from Dave’s fellow Walshians. For those of us who so deeply admire him as one of the all time greats, I know such a discussion will not degenerate into statements like “How can you defend/attack this movie?”

    With that in mind I mainly want to suggest some things that haven’t been said about it, but will first acknowledge that unlike Dave I have never come to love PURSUED less over many viewings through the years, still remember my first enthralled late night viewing on TV in the 60s with car commercials in and being mesmerized by the flashing spurs flashbacks and ever more absorbed to the end. That was in my early days of taking Walsh to heart, so I believe I only understand better now how profoundly it does fit in to his body of work. I’ve written on the film at least three times, and it still easily rates among my half dozen favorite Walsh movies, as, by the way, THE MAN I LOVE also does.

    Although they are all interrelated, the key things that have come up that need to be addressed are these: 1) Niven Busch (and what is said about psychological movies and psychoanalytic readings); 2) Raoul Walsh and whether the movie is as personal as some of his others; 3) Teresa Wright and her role. But also, related to these, I want to place the film in its genre, because this is very important.

    First, Niven Busch. I’ll say right away that I like him very much and greatly value his contribution to the Western. Even apart from the genre, he wrote what I believe gets the edge as Edward Dmytryk’s best movie, the postwar drama TILL THE END OF TIME, while Dmytryk (and he is not alone in this) also owes Busch for the refinement of family drama and psychological elements in the 50s Western in Dmytryk’s two best movies of that decade (not written by Busch), BROKEN LANCE and WARLOCK. But not to digress too much, because my first point, which I want to hammer pretty hard, has to do with what Busch was actually doing. And I think I’m just in time with this because references to psychoanalytic readings of film in the 1970s, truly a dark age of film criticism (at least in academia and in the writing of ideological feminists), have just become center stage here owing to Dave’s many references both in the intro and the piece to PURSUED as Freudian psychological drama, as if this inarguably defines it.

    But how much is this really the case? I question that Jeb Rand is a neurotic character, or that any of the characters really are (Grant is warped in other ways, while Ma has taken the tragically wrong position that it is better to bury the truth and the past; Thorley lies to herself in the climactic reels but acknowleges it readily on the wedding night and is again aligned with Jeb, while her brother Adam more or less does himself in with jealousy of his foster brother, the incestuous current toward his sister in his own emotional makeup acknowledged pretty straightforwardly in the movie’s realization and certainly nothing unusual). The past action is initiated when Jeb, as a boy, suffers the traumatic experience of seeing his father violently killed before his eyes–he is able to admit the memory to himself in only a confused way and is troubled by it and that is what he must deal with in the narrative, but there is nothing to show him as neurotic or a psychological study of a damaged man and (I intend to come back this), given the context of his story, I would argue strongly that he is as self-determining as any Walsh hero. I do very much agree with Dave that this defines Walsh’s vision but just don’t agree that this movie or the character is treated any differently in that regard.

    What has not been said and needs to be is that to the extent that there is Freudian psychology in Niven Busch’s writing–and there is some–it is secondary to what he really wanted to create in these Westerns: a counterpart to Greek tragedy, one of the great bodies of work in literary art and far more worthy of our respect than Freudian psychology, and crucially, some elements of Freudian psychology may be traced to Greek tragedy, as being brought into the open by the form, but I would say Freudian theory owes more to Greek Tragedy than Greek Tragedy owes to the Freudians.

    It is because this is what Busch wanted to do in those postwar years that he gave himself to the Western, the one genre that could contain the Greek Tragedy inflections (and the psychological aspects) unpretentiously. And this came at a key time for the genre, for 1946 is a watershed year in which the Western at last blossoms into the full maturity that was always implicit in the masterpieces MY DARLING CLEMENTINE and CANYON PASSAGE. Given where the genre was then and what it would become in the 50s and on through the classical cinema grace notes of THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY in 1962, Busch’s contribution is a key one because the things he wants to do in DUEL IN THE SUN, PURSUED and THE FURIES may seem like overload but turn out not to be. This is the one genre that can handle anything without becoming pretentious, a fault it never has in the late 40s or 1950s no matter how deep or ambitious the film (and was really sorry not to chime in with something on THE HANGING TREE a few weeks back because I loved Dave’s good words for that beautiful movie). Even though a given Western may be faulted for being mannered (THE LEFT-HANDED GUN), self-conscious (HIGH NOON), or excessively ponderous and inflated (SHANE–though unlike Dave I’d defend it from that charge–and THE BIG COUNTRY, in which case I wouldn’t), it still follows conventions and motifs and may be accepted simply as a Western. And it is emphatically that way with PURSUED.

    For all the really bad writing on it since the 70s, owing to that whole psychoanalytic approach, and I’ve read plenty of this–too much.

    So, look at the film again and you may want to back off emphasizing the “Freudian” aspects; it’s exactly because they do not control it–and because it is a Western–that it that it is successful while so many of those Freudian dramas of the late 40s are not, just as Dave says. When I first read Dave’s tag line above I actually remembered it as “Sometimes a six-gun is just a six-gun” and I think that more direct paraphrase of Freud’s famous line would have been very apt.

    A little more about Greek tragedy and its interplay with the Western and why it did work so well. Westerns tend not to be tragedies, though there are exceptions to this and it can work really well, though not in the same way as a Greek play. I’m thinking especially of THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, where the family drama involving the Waggomans is authentically tragic as I experience the film, but the hero Will Lockhart/James Stewart is outside of this, an interloper into what exists who forces the tragedy into the open and has the moral sense to finally turn his back on revenge when that tragedy plays out. So PURSUED has a happy ending; there has really been no question of a psychological wound, only the necessity of memory “spurred” by action bring the understanding the hero and heroine need to move forward. Because the trauma and the way Jeb integrated it was reasonable, not neurotic–imagine if you were him as a boy and this happened? Isn’t his response in the course of the film pretty reasonable? He handles things as best he can, and even though Grant says that Jeb will hear a voice inside himself that says to kill, Jeb never seeks to kill anyone–he kills both Adam and Prentice in self-defense; while in his courting and marriage to Thorley after these events, he has correctly understood her as is finally shown, and this is key to the climax. For that reason, I’ve always felt good about my line that describes the end of the film in my Magill’s piece: “…a mature romantic untion with Thorley is now possible, and a Walshian couple rides away in the final image, not into the sunset, as in most Westerns, but out of the darkness.”

    I will add that no matter how he really felt about Walsh as a director, PURSUED is the one movie that for me fully realizes what Busch wanted to do in the Western, and significantly, it is the only one on which the screenplay is his own, even allowing that Walsh, as always, directed in his own way. DUEL IN THE SUN had great potential but it’s only partly fulfilled because the script was rewritten by its producer, who made matters worse by not being able to leave a director alone, even when it’s King Vidor. THE FURIES is a very strong Western as directed by Anthony Mann but I’d argue that there the psychological element–though it is Electra so consistent with Busch’s Greek tragedy aspirations–becomes dull in the long stretch at the end after the magnificent scene in which Gilbert Roland is killed and Stanwyck (at a kind of Stanwyck zenith) unleashes with passionate intensity the hatred she now feels for the father she has always loved, because from that point it rules the film too much and not in so interesting a way.

    But in the late 40s, Niven Busch is overall a key figure and entirely positive force, and PURSUED at least proves it.

    Now on to where Raoul Walsh fits in to this.

    [to be continued]

  • Peter Henne

    I agree here that PURSUED is not one of Walsh’s best and seems like a sidetrack, but I don’t regret he did it. I think Walsh was full of surprises: when he put a woman’s experience at the center of THE MAN I LOVE, when he introduced distinctly stylized color a little later on, and likewise his wide compositions for THE BIG TRAIL and the ’50s Scope films. Maybe it is not so baffling that he tried something so overtly psychological as PURSUED? I’d put his theatricalizing, illusion-pinching films of the ’50s including BAND OF ANGELS, THE REVOLT OF MAMIE STOVER, and THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS among his most accomplished, his rather abstract “wall of color” approach softening up realism and helping to free up the stories of women in dominantly masculine settings or times to rise to and even occupy the surface. I think some of what makes KFQ so fun is that it stands the traditional idea of a group of men who broker power on its head. The conception for color is a good match for stories of people who are dispossessed poking through social barriers and coming to prominence, though Walsh was hardly literalizing or programmatic and it’s not the only use he gives it.

  • Brian Dauth

    “The unconscious mind! What a subject for a short story!” — WATT by Samuel Beckett (whom I have been re-reading lately and whose work is beginning to feel in great affinity with the films of David Cronenberg. COSMOPOLIS is great btw. I also agree with Alex that A DANGEROUS METHOD was dull — the only film by Cronenberg that failed for me — or I failed it).

    I would add to Gregg’s comments on Bordwell/Carroll that they also neglect to take into account the social positionality of a spectator when laying out how a person responds to a work of art. I also think that society is entering an age when spectators are more and more actively engaged in their spectatorship and not passive in the least (which raises new issues in aesthetic thought as a fourth way is sought).