DVD Review: Track of the Cat (Special Collector's Edition)
Release Date: June 6, 2006
Distributor: Paramount Home Video
· William A. Wellman
· Robert Mitchum
· Teresa Wright
· Diana Lynn
· Tab Hunter
· Beulah Bondi
· IMDb: Track of the Cat
by Paul Schultz
Published: June 26, 2006
If you're looking for a feel-good Western drama about a healthy family forging the new frontier, this is not that movie. Instead, "Track of the Cat"
presents the relentlessly dysfunctional Bridges family, huddled in their
snowbound, isolated ranch in the waning days of the 19th century as a mountain lion threatens their livelihood. Adapted from the 1949 adventure novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark,
this movie could be described as a "psychological Western" where not
much happens as far as action, but there's plenty of virulent activity going on
in the minds of its characters. With outdoor scenes filmed on location on Mount Rainier, director William Wellman intentionally drains the color design to fashion a black-and-white world, which successfully creates a visual detachment of the film from reality. Even the interiors of the cabin, whose walls and ceiling are painted bleach white, evoke the souls of its bloodless inhabitants.
Robert Mitchum stars as Curt Bridges, seemingly the only family member with the shred of a backbone. He knows this and continually insults his gentle older brother Arthur (William Hopper) who tries to keep the familial peace while skirting around any controversial territory, and shy younger brother Harold (Tab Hunter) who never stands up for himself, or says what's on his mind. Pa (Philip Tonge) is an alcoholic who's only purpose in life is apparently to humiliate everyone with his embarrassing behavior. Grace (Teresa Wright) is a spinster daughter who bitterly fears she'll be forever
trapped in the house. Finally, light-years away from Jimmy Stewart's mother in "It's a Wonderful Life", Beulah Bondi portrays the manipulative matriarch who spares a kind word for no one.
The lovely Gwen (Diana Lynn) is visiting from a neighboring farm, expectantly waiting for Harold to ask her hand in marriage. Ma mocks her constantly, but Harold refuses to defend her and instead sits in dumb silence. Grace shrilly pleads with Harold to marry Gwen and escape this forsaken place, while Curt extends his bullying tactics to try to take Gwen for himself. Meanwhile, a black panther (or "painter" as it is consistently pronounced throughout the film) is menacing the livestock. Joe Sam (an unrecognizable Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa in the Our Gang/The Little Rascals comedies), a mysterious 100 year-old Indian who serves as a kind of handyman on a family's ranch, cryptically refers to the power of the panther, indicating its presence may be metaphorical as well as physical. His Indian spirituality clashes with Ma's repressive Christianity,
exposing him to verbal and physical assault.
Track of the Cat (1954) is part of
John Wayne's Batjac Productions:
The Suspense Collection which
also includes Ring of Fear,
Plunder of the Sun and
Man in the Vault.
Arthur and Curt set out to kill the intrusive "painter" while the rest of the family continue to bicker. Pa elicits the only comic relief with his uncanny ability to find hidden liquor bottles the women try to conceal from him. When Curt leaves to get more food, the cat kills Arthur, and the rest of the family blames him. So, he sets out again in the dead of winter. Alone in the wilderness, his bravado vanishes and he proves to be mentally no stronger than the brothers that he so enjoys criticizing.
Despite the mountainous wide open spaces, the film feels claustrophobic as members of the Bridges wallow in their caustic existence. Its muted color
adds to the dreary environment and you find yourself swallowed up in all its
gloom. Even one character's redemption at film's end fails to lift the
bleakness that has ingrained itself. The titular beast is never shown on-screen, giving it a supernatural element. A fantastic shot toward the latter part of the film shows a burial from the grave's point of view. Is the
emptiness of death looking out upon the gathered family members, or is it
looking in? If you're looking for a bold moral allegory with an eerie palette
and unconventional cinematography, this is that movie.
Commentary by William Wellman, Jr., Tab Hunter and Frank Thompson: the son of the film director, the '50s heartthrob actor and a
historian/filmmaker discuss the picture and provide interesting anecdotal bits
about its production, but never really delve into the story's psychology.
At one point Hunter explains his dubious contributions by admitting, "I
don't really remember much of the film."
The Making of Track of the Cat - four featurettes
- "Remembering William Wellman"
- "A New Kind of Western: The Writing of Walter Van Tilburg Clark"
- "Black Diamond"
- "Tracking the Cat"
Photo Gallery - 40 black-and-white stills of the cast and
Previews - The John Wayne DVD Collection, the Batjac Collection (showing the trailers of included films)