An ambitious if lower-budgeted Western, The Halliday Brand (1957) offers some interesting stylized direction by B-movie auteur Joseph H. Lewis, but overall the picture is fatally, even bizarrely miscast though the leading performances are generally good. Produced by Collier Young for United Artists, there's a self-conscious artiness to the enterprise, much of which doesn't come off. Even the movie's title doesn't quite work, sounding more like the name of a securities firm - "Smart money. Smart brand. Halliday."
Part of MGM's "Limited Edition Collection" line of DVD-Rs, this title gets a soft, unimpressive full-frame transfer though it clearly should be in enhanced widescreen. There are no extra features.
Clay Halliday (Bill Williams) tracks downs his elder brother, Daniel (Joseph Cotten), at the request of their father, Big Dan (Ward Bond), a one-time sheriff and rancher now on his deathbed. Even so Daniel wants nothing to do with his estranged father, but changes his mind when Clay mentions that Big Dan has granted Clay and half-breed Aleta Burris (Viveca Lindfors) permission to marry.
Daniel is about to enter his father's room when, in an extended flashback, he recalls the circumstances that drove him away. Daniel once was Big Dan's favorite, but the "young man" had a distaste for his father's style of frontier justice, beating confessions out of suspects and the like, which Big Dan defends as small prices to pay in the name of progress.
But then Daniel's kid sister, Martha (Betsy Blair) wants to marry half-breed ranch hand Jivaro (Christopher Dark), and the racist patriarch goes bananas, insisting no Injun is going to taint Halliday blood. Soon after, Jivaro is seriously injured while trying to stop a stampeding herd, enough of an excuse for Big Dan to charge his daughter's boyfriend with cattle rustling. Despite strong protests from Daniel, Big Dan then passively allows Jivaro to be lynched.
Appalled, Daniel leaves home determined to see justice served, by tormenting his father into giving up his badge through a series of humiliating crimes which, in turn, shatter Big Dan's standing within the community.
The Halliday Brand's most overt problem is the casting of 52-year-old Cotten as the son of 55-year-old Ward Bond. Though Bond's hair is dyed white and he wears a bit of old-age makeup, he still looks far heartier and more youthful than Cotten, whose hair and facial features made him seem older even when he was in his late-thirties. It's pretty ludicrous when MGM's DVD back cover text describes this "young man's ...disillusionment" and how "the boy rebels" later on. Cotten gives a fine performance but nothing can hide the fact that he's middle-aged or that he looks significantly older than the man playing his father.
The casting doesn't work in other ways as well. Bond occasionally lapses into an Irish accent, while Virginia-born Cotten speaks in his usual southern drawl. Meanwhile, as Daniel's sister, Betsy Blair has a strong Jersey accent whenever her character gets riled, while Swede Viveca Lindfors, with her sculpted, lean features, and frog-faced Arkansan Jay C. Flippen aren't a convincing daughter and father, either. Reportedly Charles Bickford, Ida Lupino (Collier Young's ex-wife), and Debra Paget were originally set to star, presumably in the Bond, Blair, and Lindfors roles. All would have been more believable, and Bickford probably better than Bond, though not that much better.
Despite the shaky casting, the performances are almost all good, Cotten and Bond especially, and each rises above overly-familiar material. Cotten (The Magnificent Ambersons, Shadow of a Doubt) was a one of the all-time great film actors though his accent and unusual features made him difficult to cast in standard leading man parts. Bond, of course, is best known as a supporting player most often associated with director John Ford. The Halliday Brand was one of his biggest film roles - it's basically the co-lead - and he makes the most of the opportunity.
The supporting cast is good: Glenn Strange (erroneously billed as "Glen" in the credits), John Dierkes, and I. Stanford Jolley play concerned townsfolk, and chameleon-like Jeanette Nolan is unrecognizable as an old Indian woman.
"Wagon Wheel Joe" Lewis's direction is in evidence in several key scenes. When Daniel and Big Dan have their climatic standoff, a line of tall grass stands between them (and the camera). Earlier, there's a visually interesting scene with Cotten and Lindfors on a barren, soundstage hill. Starkly decorated with a single dead tree, the set is encircled by a creepy, cloud-filled cyclorama giving the sequence an almost dream-like quality. Stanley Wilson's odd score adds to this, with its title theme especially, backed with an oddly mournful vocal arrangement.
Video & Audio
The Halliday Brand was shot for widescreen projection, probably either 1.66:1 or 1.75:1, but gets only a soft and washed-out full frame transfer here. Zoomed in on widescreen TVs, the image looks okay but doesn't compare favorably to Warner Archive and Columbia Classic titles. The region "1" encoded DVD-R disc's Dolby Digital mono audio (English only, with no subtitle options) is adequate. There are the usual chapter stops every ten minutes, but no other menu options, and no Extra Features
The Halliday Brand's cast and director make it worthwhile, and while moderately ambitious the picture has a lot of casting and script problems. The weak video transfer doesn't help. Rent It.
Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary for AnimEigo's Tora-san, a DVD boxed set, is on sale now.