A sweeping widescreen effort, 1954's Broken Lance, dresses up King Lear in a western setting. The film begins, in flashback, with Joe Deveraux (Robert Wagner) returning to his homestead. His father Matt (Spencer Tracy) is a stubborn cattle baron who sees his land being destroyed by copper smelters dumping pollution into his water supply and killing his cattle. He turns to the law, and a trial becomes a way for his other sons to take over the ranch. Led by the bullying Ben (Richard Widmark), the brothers use this opportunity to grasp control of their empire something Ben feels he's owed because of the work he's put in. Things are complicated for Joe, a half-brother Ben's mother died and Matt took up with an Indian woman (Katy Jurado), who the town pretends is Mexican. But this makes Joe a half-breed and not entitled to any of his father's estate. His life is also complicated by his relationship to Barbara (Jean Peters), which provokes some latent racism in her father. But the trial puts Matt and Joe in a corner, leading to Matt's withering health. Directed by Edward Dmytryk, Broken Lance is more interesting than good. The director often evinced a flat eye in his camera placement, and the film has a stodgy pace although perhaps Dmytryk never fully mastered the CinemaScope format. The film does have good performances from its leads, with Tracy making a great stubborn father. The arch drama is engaging enough, and Wagner is fine (though a touch bland) as the obviously good son, but one wishes more time was spent with Richard Widmark. Widmark was one of the most interesting actors of the 1950s, and he only comes to the fore in the final third of the film. He's almost given enough room to actually make his character multidimensional, but the script conspires against him, making him a simple bad guy. Not a bad film, but one with more promise than it delivers. Fox presents Broken Lance in both anamorphic (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan transfers with Dolby Digital 4.0 audio. Extras consist of the film's theatrical trailer and Movietone news footage of the Academy Awards (1 min.) Keep-case.
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