Friday, July 8, 2011

Track Of The Cat (1954)

When The Bridges Attack

- Director William A. Wellman (The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Battleground (1949)) helms Track Of The Cat, a terrific film adaptation of Walter Van Tilburg Clark's novel about a family feud and a dangerous "painter" in the great outdoors.

Robert Mitchum stars as Curt Bridges, the unofficial leader of the dysfunctional Bridges clan who live on a ranch near Apen, CO. With Ma and Pa Bridges too old to run things, older brother Arthur having his priorities set elsewhere, sister Gwen forever stuck in spinsterhood, and younger brother Harold as soft as a wet sponge and quick to give in, Curt is prime to own and run the family property however he wants with little to no obstacles in his way. When a black panther (or "painter" as it is often referred to in the film) attacks their livestock and kills a family member, Curt goes out of his way and out of his mind to kill it while the rest of the Bridges family jockeys for position back home.

Wellman previously directed Mitchum to his first and only Oscar nomination (for his supporting role in Story Of G.I. Joe (1945)) and the pairing works very well again. In a role that is completely unlike anything else he has done in his 50 year career, Mitchum gives a fascinating, roaring performance of this self-centered and impolite wilderness junky. Other actors also fare well in the film: William Hopper as Arthur, Teresa Wright as Grace, Tab Hunter as Harold, and Beulah Bondi is chillingly good as Ma Bridges. Others, however, do not do so well: Diana Lynn gives a very weak performance of Gwen, Harold's sweetheart, and Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer (of "The Little Rascals" fame) is hilariously awful as the embarrassing "Injun Joe Sam" character.

By far the most memorable and impressive aspect of Track Of The Cat is its fantastic visuals. Wellman had an idea of making a color film with black and white specs and Track Of The Cat is his great experiment. The film is both dark and bright, giving an interesting texture to its colors - it just simply looks amazing. But the film also has very interesting characters and overall story set inside this brilliant-looking picture.

Of course, the actual tracking of the black cat is a thrilling part of the story but the film does not take long to plunge the audience into some major family drama. Mitchum's Curt character in particular is a very interesting piece of the film; a supremely flawed individual that the audience cannot help but like. The many different facets of the story (Curt's trek through the wilderness, the Bridges’ family feud, and the mystery of the black cat) all fit together wonderfully to form a very captivating tale.

Despite being critically panned in its day and having a polarizing and controversial reputation among cinephiles now (Is it a western or not? I say YES!), Track Of The Cat is a very underrated film; not quite an overlooked masterpiece per say but terrific viewing nonetheless.

CBC Rating: 8/10

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