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William Wellman’s Track of the Cat

August 30, 2012

Track of the Cat: special collector’s edition DVD
Paramount (2005)

If Eugene O’Neill wrote a Western and Nicholas Ray directed it, you might get something like William Wellman’s 1954 film, Track of the Cat. It depicts one of the most dysfunctional families ever filmed for a Western. Robert Mitchum plays the macho, competent, but unlikable son, Curt. Tab Hunter is the youngest son, living in Curt’s shadow and afraid to do anything on his own. Dad is an alcoholic constantly searching for his bottle of whiskey (hidden by those “thieving women”) and Mom is a mean, Bible-thumping harridan. During a bitterly cold winter storm, the sons track a cougar killing their livestock. While this advances the plot, the real story is the poisonous interaction between the family members. William Wellman filmed this in Technicolor–yet the color design is all black and white (except for a few things that pop out of the screen like Curt’s dark red jacket). When a family member dies, the deathbed and the grave literally blot out most of the Cinemascope shot, overshadowing any living people in the frame. Roy Webb’s music underscores the family angst. I enjoyed the DVD extras, in particular the one about Mitchum’s horse, Black Diamond, a famous Hollywood horse who puts on a show here pawing, shaking his head, rearing up, and running across a mountain without a rider. Track of the Cat is a powerful psychological drama enhanced with in-your-face visuals and dissonant music, that ranks just below Nicholas Ray’s studies in tormented families from the same time

From → Movies

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