[box cover]

Pursued

A key western from 1947, Raoul Walsh's Pursued can be seen as a turning point in the genre, arriving at a time when screenwriters and directors began to shun classic hero/villain motifs in order to examine inner psychological dramas — a tactic later employed by Anthony Mann, John Ford, and Clint Eastwood, among others. Robert Mitchum stars as Jeb Rand, who is orphaned as a young boy and taken in by widower Medora Callum (Judith Anderson). It's clear that the towheaded lad isn't kin to his two siblings, Thorley (Teresa Wright) and Adam (John Rodney), which creates familial tension. What's worse, Jeb suffers from strange nightmares which he can't explain. Becoming a young man, Jeb enters the Spanish-American war (the family's representative, after losing a coin-toss to Adam), and he returns a wounded hero. But he's unaware that a stranger is stalking him — Grant Callum (Dean Jagger), the brother of Ma Callum's dead husband, has sworn to kill every last one of the Rand clan, and Jeb is the last one. Meanwhile, Jeb and Thorley fall in love, Jeb and Adam are bent on a deadly conflict, and Ma Callum refuses to own up to a sordid secret in her past. Pursued clearly is cut from the cloth of the western genre, and it's directed by a master — Raoul Walsh had been helming films since the silent era, originally apprenticing under D.W. Griffith (he played John Wilkes Booth in Birth of a Nation). Some historians have noted that Walsh was only as good as his material, but here he displays a remarkable eye for 1.33:1 composition, exploiting light, shadow, and depth to make nearly every moment of black-and-white celluloid worthy of a film-school textbook. However, the script by Niven Busch is what sets Pursued apart from its contemporaries — rather than offering a protagonist who valiantly struggles against opposing forces, there is a remarkable sense of doom surrounding Jeb Rand, and the character finds himself normally reacting to the star-crossed circumstances of his life. In this sense, Rand is just as much a film noir chump as a New Mexico cowboy, and he's paired with a femme fatale in the form of Teresa Wright, who alternately loves him and later wants to murder him. Mitchum is perfect in the lead with his hangdog sadness and low, soft voice — he seems to be concealing deep-seated wounds in every scene. The cast is rounded out nicely by Judith Anderson, John Rodney, and a vengeance-bent Dean Jagger, and while the conclusion may come off a bit trite (the psychological trauma is explained away like a simple jigsaw puzzle), this is a wonderful look at the western genre at the outset of its mature phase, which would carry on through the next decade. Artisan's DVD release of Pursued offers a solid transfer of the restored source-print maintained at the UCLA Film and Television Archives. It's not perfect, but it does look remarkably good with barely any collateral damage and crisp low-contrast details, while the monaural audio is clear in DD 2.0. Chapter selection, keep-case.
—JJB



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