It's set in the Old West, but
it's not a typical cowboy or gunfighter story: the 1947 Pursued is a
genre-crossing film, using a western setting to tell a dark,
psychologically-focused character drama with elements of suspense. Robert
Mitchum stars as Jeb Rand, a character who has been somewhat of an outcast ever
since he was a boy, when he was taken in by Ma Callum (Judith Anderson) after
some tragedy wiped out his own family. What was that tragedy? Jeb can't quite
remember, and his adoptive mother discourages him from trying, instead
encouraging him to feel part of her family, along with her daughter Thor
(Teresa Wright) and son Adam (John Rodney). Still, Jeb is troubled by what he
can't remember, and it seems clear that some sort of tragedy is overshadowing
In terms of its initial
release, I suspect that part of the effect of Pursued was the novelty of
this mix: the film uses many of the stock elements of a western, but these
elements are almost incidental to the main thrust of the story, which is
squarely on the main character's mental torment. It's an interesting narrative
structure as well, with the film starting "in medias res" with Jeb
and Thor huddled in a derelict ranch house awaiting the arrival of pursuers; at
the beginning, we don't know who these people are or why they're being hunted.
The real story is told in a series of flashbacks to Jeb's childhood, rather
awkwardly introduced by the device of Jeb telling Thor the story of his life.
(Awkward, because for all the parts that he remembers, she was there. It's a
major case of "As you know, Bob...")
From what I've described so
far, it sounds like Pursued should be quite compelling, but the truth is
that it left me rather cold. That is, I found it watchable, but it never rose
to the level of being at all compelling: despite the brooding music and the
shadowy photography, the sense of impending doom remained something that the
film was trying to impose on me rather than something I felt. Robert Mitchum
somehow never quite clicks as the moody Jeb; his sleepy-eyed look and lack of
emotional expression seems bored more often than it seems troubled.
If the psychological drama
doesn't hook you, what's left? Not really all that much. The plot struck me as
being rather contrived, and while I won't spoil the ending, the film wraps up
its story with a revelation that doesn't really reveal anything in much of a
new light, and a deus ex machina that requires one of the characters to
suddenly be reinterpreted in an opposite way to how the character has been
portrayed throughout the film. After all, how convincing is a turnaround of
"Oh, I've wronged you all these years, now I must atone for it" if
the viewer has seen this person consistently treating Jeb well throughout the
Pursued is most likely a
film that will appeal to viewers who are particularly fond of movies from the
1940s and 1950s, and who will appreciate the subversion of expectations more in
the context of other films of the era, and to those who especially like
westerns, since it does offer a rather different approach. For the casual
viewer, it's not bad, but not gripping either.
After being given a restoration
treatment, this 1947 film looks good, despite some marks of wear and tear
around the edges. The black and white image is fairly clean, with no evident
edge enhancement and a moderate amount of noise. Scenes with medium light
levels look the best in terms of contrast, with a nice amount of detail evident
in the picture; more challenging shots, such as figures in a dark foreground
against a light background, tend to lose some of that detail.
There's one section early in
the film which must have been in much worse condition pre-restoration, as for
one scene the image becomes much grainier. The restored condition of the print
overall is satisfactory, though there are still a moderate number of print
flaws appearing consistently throughout the film.
Pursued is presented in
its original "Academy" aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
Pursued has been given a
Dolby 2.0 soundtrack for its release onto DVD. I was disappointed with the
audio quality of the DVD, as a number of issues made the listening experience
detract from the overall film. Volume levels fluctuate, ranging from blaring
music to too-soft dialogue, and the sound overall tends to have a slightly
muffled quality to it. In quiet scenes, a slight hiss is also noticeable in the
background of the track.
Nothing: just scene selections.
The menu is the soul of straightforwardness, at least, and is nicely themed to
In the end, I didn't find Pursued
particularly compelling for any of its elements: not the psychological drama,
nor the suspense, nor the western setting. It's not a bad film by any means,
and there are worse ways to while away an evening, but there are better ways,
too: I'd suggest that Pursued is best as a rental. Those who haven't
seen it yet can decide whether they like it, and those who already like the
film can decide whether the DVD transfer (with its satisfactory video but
lackluster audio treatment) merits a purchase.