Widely credited as Hollywood's first "Western noir", Raoul Walsh's Pursued (1947) is a dense, layered character study that should work a little better than it ultimately does. Our story focuses on Jeb Rand (Robert Mitchum) who, as a young boy, survives the murder of his family at the hands of the Callum clan. Ma Callum (Judith Anderson) rescues young Jeb and raises him along with her own two children, Adam (John Rodney) and Thorley (Theresa Wright). There's obviously some friction between the children; not only do Thorley and Jeb develop feelings for one another as they grow into adulthood, but Adam resents his brother for being a third heir. Jeb, all the while, has recurring nightmares about his family's murder, but he just can't seem to make the pieces fit. For obvious reasons, Ma discourages him from trying.
Of course, every movie needs some sort of tangible villain, and the closest we get is Grant Callum (Dean Jagger), Ma's brother-in-law who lost an arm during the feud that seemingly ended after the Rands were murdered. Naturally, the feud isn't over if Jeb is still lurking about, but Pursued doesn't immediately jump to the cat-and-mouse chase we might assume it will. Though Grant eventually moves in on his prey, he's more interested in letting Jeb find out the truth for himself, rather than making a speech and pulling the trigger. It's an interesting sentiment...but like other elements of the film, it sounds better on paper.
Told largely via flashback sequences, Pursued has a great core story that's partially ruined by its clunky, plodding structure. Mitchum's performance as the sympathetic Jeb never feels all that convincing, while the sporadic flashback transitions routinely chip away at momentum. Had Pursued simply been presented chronologically, perhaps some of its pacing problems wouldn't exist....but either way, this is a character study with only two or three interesting characters. There is some modest chemistry between Jeb and Thorley, while the brothers' rivalry certainly has its moments, but the unraveling mystery of the Rand family murder never seems all that compelling, even when the truth is finally revealed. Pursued simply presents us with too much too soon and wastes the remaining time moving the pieces around a little.
Presented on DVD and Blu-Ray by Olive Films, Pursued's only other DVD release arrived back in 2003. This time around, we're treated to a strong visual presentation that highlights James Wong Howe's interesting cinematography; otherwise, this is a fairly lackluster effort. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Pursued looks mighty good overall. Black levels, shadow detail and textures are very strong, with only the darkest scenes showing a lack of crispness and depth. James Wong Howe's cinematography is represented well here, punctuated by a distinct lack of dirt, debris and other blemishes. A healthy layer of grain is also present, while no major digital imperfections were spotted along the way. All vintage catalog titles should be treated this well.
NOTE: This review's screen caps were taken from promotional outlets and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The audio, unfortunately, isn't quite as strong. Some limitations of this DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio track are undoubtedly due to the source material, but music often overpowers dialogue and sounds a bit shrill on the high end. You'll most likely have to adjust the volume on several occasions. I'd have appreciated optional English subtitles or captions to help decipher some of the dialogue, but none are included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, this is a plain-wrap design with a minimum of options. Menu loading time is fast with no commercials or trailers beforehand. This one-disc release includes a promotional insert and an attractive card-stock slipcover...but man
, did they cheap out on the cases: the anti-theft sticker actually pulled off the silver Blu-Ray logo completely. Still, this is a solid presentation that suits the film quite well.
Not much...just an interesting but painfully short Video Introduction
by Martin Scorsese (2:28), originally recorded for a DVD edition that never saw the light of day. Kind of disappointing, given the retail price.
Pursued isn't the definition of "essential classic cinema": it hasn't aged particularly well and neither the story, characters or performances consistently fire on all cylinders. It is, however, worth a look if you're interested in the niche genre of "western noir", while the solid cinematography and darkened atmosphere help to carry some of the load. Unfortunately, the only real highlight of Olive Films' Blu-Ray package is a strong visual presentation; all of its other shortcomings don't justify the high price tag. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.