Broken Lance Blu-ray Review
A Cinemascope western with something on its mind other than cowboys and Indians (though they certainly are present in the scenario), Edward Dmytryk’s Broken Lance is a thoughtful, interesting family drama with a startling cast of excellent actors, gorgeous locations, and a story that mixes sibling and father-son rivalries with considerations of racial prejudice and property rights which take it somewhat off the well-worn path of gunslingers and cattle drives that many westerns of the era were dealing with. Twilight Time’s new release of this 1954 hit (among the twenty biggest grossers of its year) looks beautiful and sounds fresh as can be.
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 36 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 11/10/2015
The Production Rating: 4/5
Released from prison after a three-year hitch, Joe Devereaux (Robert Wagner) returns to his hometown to find that his three half-brothers (Richard Widmark, Hugh O’Brian, Earl Holliman) are now running their sprawling cattle ranch from the comforts of town. He recalls the circumstances which sent him to prison: when cattle baron Matt Devereaux (Spencer Tracy) discovers a nearby copper mine is polluting a stream where he waters his cattle, he becomes furious and leads a raid on the mining operation which results in several injuries. The police have a warrant to arrest whoever was responsible for the attack, so to spare his father the agony and humiliation of a stay behind bars, Joe claims responsibility and goes to prison. In his absence, his father has had a stroke and later died, and his siblings now want Joe to clear out of the territory, afraid that he might have returned to exact revenge on them.
The Oscar-winning original story by Philip Yordan was based on Fox’s previous film noir House of Strangers, and its adaptation into the western genre fits quite snugly and will remind fans not only of parts of Shakespeare’s King Lear but also the later smash television series Bonanza. While the flashback structure of Richard Murphy’s screenplay works well, it’s quite a long time into the movie before we finally learn the reason for Joe’s three-year prison sentence or the story behind the bitterness and mistrust between the three older brothers and Joe. The script also touches on racial prejudices inherent at the time concerning mixed race marriages between Caucasians and Native Americans and the second class citizenship often afforded their offspring without making that the central element of the story. Director Edward Dmytryk working in Cinemascope for the first time does a strikingly good job filling the wide frame not only with gorgeous visuals of the various outdoor locations (some at the Fox ranch in California, others in Arizona) such as a race between sweethearts Joe and Barbara (Jean Peters) down a creek bed covered by arching trees that give it a cathedral look and feel but also stretching his large cast across the screen for maximum effect (Cinemascope allows us to see each of the four sons of Spencer Tracy’s domineering Matt reacting personally to his sometimes unreasonable demands and edicts). He also stages the action scenes including the face-off with the miners and the climactic fight to the death between older and younger brothers with economy and dispatch without sacrificing excitement or surprise.
Spencer Tracy makes a memorable cattle baron, having built his huge operation up from nothing and demanding to be able to run it his way even if his ideas of frontier justice don’t jibe any longer with more modernized laws. We understand somewhat the injured pride of his older sons who have been denied love and tenderness and instead have been used as pack mules and hired help though the script doesn’t allow especially the sons played by Hugh O’Brian and Earl Holliman much of a voice in expressing their frustrations. Richard Widmark, on the other hand, while like his brothers not sharing much in the way of physical likenesses to one another, has a superb scene late in the film where he finally gets to make his case with Tracy quite emphatically. The final fight scene has never quite rung true (an attack with little proof for its necessity), but he acts it to high heaven. Robert Wagner as the youngest son with something to prove is very good in the film, one of his Fox contract pictures where he’s not used as just a pretty face but for his acting chops. As his mother, Katy Jurado earned an Oscar nomination for her quiet, controlled performance, but Jean Peters as the love interest who defies her father’s (E.G. Marshall – excellent) wishes about dating a boy of Joe’s racial heritage does well with a character who could have used a few more emotional shades. Eduard Franz does an excellent job as Matt’s loyal Indian friend Two Moons.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The original Cinemascope theatrical aspect ratio of 2.55:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is excellent throughout the transfer, and with Eastmancolor printed by Technicolor in the credits, hues are surprisingly robust and impressive even if occasionally skin tones go a bit brownish on Jean Peters (one expects the leathery skin tones on the gentlemen). Black levels are very good, and contrast has been consistently applied to make for a very arresting image. The image is also spotlessly clean throughout. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
Audio Rating: 4/5
The disc offers both DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo and 5.0 surround tracks. The 2.0 track gives a greater sense of the directionalized dialogue than the 5.0 track (though one can certainly sense it there, too), but both offer admirable fidelity for elements of this era. While one may be able to discern a tiny bit of attenuated hiss in a quiet scene or two later in the movie, most of the tracks are artifact-free even if the 5.0 mix is much stronger across the front channels than in the rears. Dialogue is always easy to understand and has been mixed discreetly with Leigh Harline’s lovely score and the numerous atmospheric effects that are typical of the western genre.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary: film historian and producer Nick Redman welcomes co-star Earl Holliman to talk about his memories of the film and to spend a majority of the track reminiscing about his life and lengthy career. While it may not be the most memorable of the star commentaries on recent Twilight Time discs, it’s certainly worth a listen.
Isolated Score Track: Leigh Harline’s score is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
Movietone Newsreel (0:52, SD): highlights of the Oscar presentations for 1954 pictures spotlighting Fox films which came home winners.
Theatrical Trailers (2:39, 2:29, SD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains some wonderful color stills from the movie, a black and white original movie poster on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s enthusiastic appraisal of the film.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Another wonderful Fox Cinemascope feature enters the Twilight Time Hall of Fame as Broken Lance takes its worthy place among other memorable Scope movies of the era being offered by the boutique label. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via their website at www.twilighttimemovies.com or via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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