Pursued is an odd film. It is a 1947 Western/ Film Noir directed by Raoul Walsh starring Robert Mitchum and Teresa Wright, complete with a wild revenge tale, as well as every Western trope there is. However, various genre conventions are used well in this example of seamless genre synthesis. This is not to say Pursued is the first and only Western to use light and shadow to a Noirish effect. It’s association to the genre doesn’t stop there. Our main character is Jeb Rand, (played by Robert Mitchum) an orphan with a past besmeared by a never-ending family feud between the Callum’s and the Rand’s. He’s a player in a convoluted plot filled with killings in dark alleys and operatic family drama, and all set against sumptuous vistas and skeevy parlors filled with dusty, bad men. However, this film is also just fun Western fare. It’s incredibly briskly paced (breakneck almost) and full of tense scenes. Even though it has a canned conclusion, it still soars in it’s indifference towards the limits of typical Western stories. It keeps pulling stops on the story-telling organ until the film is a cacophony of weird plot-lines and so forth, culminating in obligatory redemption yet still remaining satisfying. No main character is usually too far gone in Westerns; they usually just barely burn the skin of their noses in the fires of Perdition. Robert Mitchum’s hulking farm-boy character does just this, following a very typical Western arc. For this reason and many other, Pursued is far from original. It’s a functional potboiler by anybody’s standards and it’s leading man, Robert Mitchum, is an odd actor, hewn out of a certain kind of slick, handsome rock, but really without emotional range. I’m not as harsh when it comes to Mr. Mitchum’s acting chops however. He does just fine running away from evil Callum curley wolves and being a coldly loving hunk. I am not as critical as New York Times film reviewer Bosley Crowther who said Robert Mitchum is, “… a very rigid gent and gives off no more animation than a Frigidaire turned to ‘Defrost.'”
Overall though, this is an exceedingly likable film. The leading lady played by Teresa Wright is quite cool for a good deal of the movie and then collapses into an effete blob when the script calls. However, there are badass woman characters, so if the rather “stock” Teresa Wright character miffs you, there’s a shotgun toting matriarch (Ma Callum played by Judith Anderson) who will fill her boots quite well and takes matters into her own hands in the aforementioned canned, yet still satisfying, ending.
An effete blob.
If there’s any kernel you should take away from this review about this film, it’s that Pursued is a great deal of fun. You’ll have to really dig deep to dislike this movie. It has it’s faults of course, one of them being a flimsy female protagonist, and yes, Robert Mitchum arguably has the acting chops of milk toast (mind you, not my opinion, but one that you are allowed to have) but it’s a fun fast-paced Western Noir with a cool, tightly paced story that will keep you very entertained. It also has a good Max Steiner score that isn’t anything mind-boggling or novel, but fits the film well, echoing songs heard throughout the film, like occasional lilts of “Londonderry Air” after Mitchum sings it in his booming voice, and ominous strains of the “Bridal Chorus” by Wagner after Robert Mitchum gets married. In conclusion, Pursued doesn’t demand too much of your brainpower but it will still give you a lot back in return. Don’t expect a earth-shattering genre deconstruction. It’s just a thoroughly entertaining film.
Words by Luca Foggini. Images by Raoul Walsh and James Wong Howe.