Devil’s Doorway (1950) Blu-ray Review

4 Stars A disturbing and rather tragic message Western.
Devil's Doorway Review

Devil’s Doorway is an Anthony Mann western with a message worth imparting.

Devil's Doorway (1950)
Released: 15 Sep 1950
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 84 min
Director: Anthony Mann
Genre: Western
Cast: Robert Taylor, Louis Calhern, Paula Raymond
Writer(s): Guy Trosper
Plot: After the Civil War, a highly decorated Shoshone Indian veteran plans to raise cattle in Wyoming but white farmers plan to grab fertile tribal lands by pitting the whites against the Indians.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 24 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 05/07/2024
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 4/5

Anthony Mann’s Devil’s Doorway is a study in prejudice, in all of its ugly and disturbing facets. It began for the director a decade of thoughtful, fascinating explorations of the West, and while it doesn’t have the name recognition of some of his other classics (Winchester ’73. The Furies, The Tin Star, The Man from Laramie), it can stand tall among them all. It would be untrue to say MGM spared no expense in making this a message picture for the masses (they even delayed its release in fear of its downbeat themes and tone), but seeing it now, its power and principles are as strongly and resplendently stated as ever.

Returning from the Civil War as a decorated hero sporting sergeant-major stripes and the Congressional Medal of Honor, Shoshone Lance Poole (Robert Taylor) resumes his place in the family residing in and raising cattle on thousands of acres of Wyoming territory land called Sweet Meadows which his family has resided on for generations. But the western expansion into the Wyoming territory has brought with it laws which relegate Native Americans to be mere wards of the government and not American citizens with no rights to homestead land or claim it as their own. Spurred on by prejudicial lawyer Verne Coolan (Louis Calhern), sheep farmers arriving in the territory are now demanding to settle on parcels of Sweet Meadows to begin raising their own families and cultivating the land for themselves. Lance goes to young lawyer Orrie Masters (Paula Raymond) to appeal to the government to amend its laws so he can retain ownership of the land he has always called home. When territorial legislatures rule against the Shoshone, Lance and his tribe are left with no alternative but to fight for what they think is right.

The screenplay by Guy Trosper paints the opposing sides of the dilemma in fairly black and white terms in demonstrating the bigotry and unfairness of the era. Throughout, reason and compromise are thrust aside for selfish, contrary reasons, blackening Lance’s previously rosy picture of understanding and unity between the races that he had found present during the war but now forgotten in a bitter, relentless barrage of hatred and suspicion which has superseded it. Director Anthony Mann represents Lance’s growing disillusion with the white man by reverting the character in gradual steps to more customary Native American appearance and manner as the film progresses, a visual representation of a character not only holding his ground but stubbornly retaining his culture’s look and demeanor as he must face down the hostile area’s settlers, posses, and eventually the U.S. Cavalry. Mann begins Lance’s assault on prejudice with a barroom brawl between Lance and a loudmouth bigot played to perfection by Bill Williams. The fight is unlike most bar fights in movies: it’s slow and methodical, painful and ugly with nothing gallant or glamorous as the two men beat each other to a pulp. Mann does interesting things with attacks later in the picture, too. There’s the initial raid on the sheepherders as the Indians use dynamite to make their point, and a later night attack uses silence quite impressively on the unsuspecting white men who naively believe that their adversaries don’t attack after dark. The climactic cavalry raid on the main homestead is noisy and unsettling as many fall victim to the rampant fire, and there is no denying that the tragic outcome is no surprise given the recalcitrant natures of both sides. But it’s something you’ll remember for sure.

Robert Taylor wouldn’t be the first actor I’d think of as being appropriate for the leading role of a Shoshone native, but despite that flat midwestern accent of his, he’s surprisingly effective in the part and certainly earns the audience’s respect with his willingness to play by the rules until the rules begin being stacked against him. As the most bigoted of the white men, Louis Calhern plows his evil with a quiet and insidious efficiency of word and action that makes his character especially loathsome. Paula Raymond is pert and pretty as the young lawyer feeling her way through the legal twists and turns in trying to help Lance (the filmmakers have resisted a romantic angle between the two of them though there is some mention late in the movie about things between them maybe being different a century later), but she lacks a little of the dynamism that might have made the character’s struggles more pronounced. Edgar Buchanan gets some nice moments as an admirer of Lance’s who must rise up against his friend once he’s made sheriff. James Mitchell is effective as Lance’s second in command, and James Millican serves the same role in Calhern’s orbit. Marshall Thompson gets a fine part as reasonable sheepherder Rod MacDougall holding no prejudice but desperate to find a haven for his herds.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully presented in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The image is spotless and usually quite sharp except in glamor close-up shots of the stars, but black levels aren’t always the deepest on record, and there is some black crush in the shadows in some indoor scenes. Otherwise, the grayscale is first rate. The movie has been divided into 22 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is quite effective in Devil’s Doorway. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been mixed most professionally with Daniele Amfitheatrof’s notable background music and the various sound effects. The outdoor recording is accurate enough to catch the wind whistling through the trees on occasion, and there are no problems with age-related artifacts like hiss, flutter, crackle, or pops.

Special Features: 2/5

Animated Shorts (HD): two MGM color shorts from 1950: The Chump Champ (7:17) with Droopy and Cue Ball Cat (7:06), a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

Theatrical Trailer (1:48, HD)

Overall: 4/5

Anthony Mann’s Devil’s Doorway is a disturbing and rather tragic message Western. The gorgeous John Alton photography contrasts with the ugly prejudicial sentiments espoused by the film’s antagonists and make it a film still with much to impart to us today. Recommended!

Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.

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Robert Crawford

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Thank you for your review. I can’t wait until I can get my copy next week. An immediate viewing once I get my hands on my Blu-ray. A fine film!
We're all gone!

A fine western indeed. I agree with Matt about the black levels not being as deep as I expected but otherwise, a solid video presentation. Alton's cinematography with natural light is featured throughout this film along with his use of filters.
 

Bartman

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This is my first time seeing Devil's Doorway. It has received universal praise, it's an excellent western. Audiences in 1950 must have found John Alton's noir photography to be a little strange in a western but it works well. The Blu-ray print/transfer is bright, if you view in a darkened room I recommend reducing your TV's brightness setting. Highly recommended, enjoy!
 

cda1143

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This is my first time seeing Devil's Doorway. It has received universal praise, it's an excellent western. Audiences in 1950 must have found John Alton's noir photography to be a little strange in a western but it works well. The Blu-ray print/transfer is bright, if you view in a darkened room I recommend reducing your TV's brightness setting. Highly recommended, enjoy!
This is the third mention of high black levels. So unusual for Warner Archive - I believe a first. Source material limitation? a disc authoring error?
 

PatrickDA

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All close-ups looked very dupey. Shame the OCN was lost or went up in smoke at the Eastman House Fire. Same thing happened to Mann's "Border Incident." This is one of the worst-looking Warner Archive titles I've bought. Oh, well.
 

Robert Crawford

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All close-ups looked very dupey. Shame the OCN was lost or went up in smoke at the Eastman House Fire. Same thing happened to Mann's "Border Incident." This is one of the worst-looking Warner Archive titles I've bought. Oh, well.
I hope your comments don't influence others not to purchase this Blu-ray release because though, it has some black level issues. My video presentation score is 4 out of 5 rating and offers a huge improvement over the 2010 DVD. It's far from being in the unwatchable category and is better looking than many classic "Black and White" Blu-ray releases from other studios.
 

Winston T. Boogie

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Basically, every Anthony Mann western is worth having. He was such an outstanding filmmaker and this picture is no exception. I've not seen the new Blu yet but I am pretty much counting on the idea it will be the best way to see this in your home theater.
 

cda1143

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I hope your comments don't influence others not to purchase this Blu-ray release because though, it has some black level issues. My video presentation score is 4 out of 5 rating and offers a huge improvement over the 2010 DVD. It's far from being in the unwatchable category and is better looking than many classic "Black and White" Blu-ray releases from other studios.
I bought it. Haven’t seen it yet, and I’m sure it is far superior to the DVD. I’m mainly interested in the technical reasons why it looks sub-par. Warner is so meticulous, but mistakes do happen - missing moth anyone?

Is this the best in can possibly look? the best in can look without exorbitant expense? Or might it be a mistake somewhere?

All the studios seem to be dealing with a substantial backlog waiting to get their discs pressed. Manufacturing pressures like these can lead to errors.
 

Robert Crawford

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I bought it. Haven’t seen it yet, and I’m sure it is far superior to the DVD. I’m mainly interested in the technical reasons why it looks sub-par. Warner is so meticulous, but mistakes do happen - missing moth anyone?

Is this the best in can possibly look? the best in can look without exorbitant expense? Or might it be a mistake somewhere?

All the studios seem to be dealing with a substantial backlog waiting to get their discs pressed. Manufacturing pressures like these can lead to errors.
IMO, it’s not sub-par, it’s a good video presentation. Watch your Blu-ray then tell us what you think about it.
 

PatrickDA

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Okay, I watched it a second time today and I'll upgrade my opinion of the transfer to good from disappointing.

Most of the dupey-looking close-ups are of Paula Raymond. We can all guess why that is given the photography tricks applied to the female leads (love-interest) characters at that time. A few other flaws may have been baked in due to conditions while the film was being made. It seems to have been produced entirely on location in Colorado.

People should know it's a 4K scan of the "best preservation elements" and not the OCN.
 
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