Track of the Cat (1954, William Wellman)

Another bizarro Western from the same year as Red Garters and with some similarly fake-looking sets/backdrops, but this time it’s not done on purpose. To be fair, much of the film is shot in a national park and looks fine.

More of a family drama than any kind of Western. Mitchum plays an unlikeable guy who’s strong-arming his family for lack of anyone else to strong-arm. He lives with Ma and Pa, middle brother Arthur, young brother Harold, sister Grace and 100-year-old Indian servant Joe-Sam. Neighbor Gwen comes over and wants to marry Harold and get him out of his dysfunctional nowhere household. But then, Mitchum and Arthur go hunting and a wildcat kills Arthur. Mitchum goes out in search of it, but loses his food by accident, then goes hungry and mad, running off a cliff to his death after a few days.

A strange idea for a movie, but stranger still is the fact that a third of the movie seems to take place in the snowy wilderness with Mitchum (the titular tracking of the cat) and the rest is screamy family drama, with Grace trying to help Harold escape, Pa always drinking, Joe-Sam being generally creepy and Mitchum hating on everyone. What kind of a Western is this? I’d heard the movie was bizarre, but it doesn’t feel bizarre while watching it (camera, sets and acting style are all pretty regular) until you stop and think about what is happening.

Katy hated the movie because she played video games while listening to it, so she hears the yelling and bitterness but doesn’t watch the tense/serene snowy bits in between. I liked it, but couldn’t imagine putting it on my top-100 all-time faves list or anything like that.

This was the year before Mitchum stunned in Night of the Hunter (that and Out of the Past being far likelier candidates for personal top-100 status).

Sister Grace starred in Shadow of a Doubt, girlfriend Gwen was the younger sister in Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, and young brother Harold was one of Tab Hunter’s first roles. Tab later had his own TV show and appeared in Grease 2. Ma was a professional Ma-actress, playing Ma in Make Way For Tomorrow almost 20 years earlier, Ma Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Ma Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. She’s also in Baron of Arizona. And damned if 100-year-old Indian Joe-Sam wasn’t played by Alfalfa from Our Gang.

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