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 his life.
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 movie?
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 the film.
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.