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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Broken Lance (Blu-ray)
Broken Lance (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // Unrated // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Twilighttimemovies]
Review by Matt Hinrichs | posted November 25, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Movies:

Ruddy-faced, silver-topped Spencer Tracy stars as a feisty rancher defending his land against evil miners and the conflicting interests of his own sons in Broken Lance, a well-produced melodrama-in-the-desert from 20th Century Fox. Kind of a Western and kind of not, this overlooked 1954 film has been reissued as a handsome limited edition, region free Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

Skillfully directed by Edward Dmytryk (Murder, My Sweet; Raintree County), Broken Lance counts as one of the more thoughtfully done, adult Westerns of the day which de-emphasized horses and simple gunplay in favor of sheer human drama. The conflict between Spencer Tracy's character and his four sons borrows heavily from Shakespeare's King Lear, while the fact that this movie was remade from a straightforward film noir starring Edward G. Robinson - 1948's House of Strangers - removes it even further from sagebrush convention. Put in the contributions of Dmytryk, the sweeping visuals of cinematographer Joe MacDonald (My Darling Clementine), and a rousing score by Leigh Harline, and you've got an intriguing example of finely tuned '50s studio craft.

Broken Lance also made for a great vehicle for young 20th Century Fox contractee Robert Wagner, as the "half-breed" youngest son of Spencer Tracy's bullish rancher, Matthew Devereaux. As the film opens, Wagner's Joe Devereaux has been released from prison, burning with resentment over his father's death. Determined to somehow take revenge for the crime that he sacrificed his freedom for, Joe makes his way to Matthew's once-stately, now abandoned ranch home. In an extended flashback, we see what made the younger Devereaux so ticked off - decades of resentment from his older half-brothers Ben (Richard Widmark), Mike (Hugh O'Brian), and Denny (Earl Holliman), over their father's treatment of them and the brothers' misguided attempts to wrest control of the ranch from their increasingly stubborn pa. Tracy also caused a rift with the older sons by marrying a Native American princess (Katy Jurado, who received an Academy Award nomination for her sympathetic portrayal) after their Irish-American mother passed on. SeƱora Devereaux loves her step-sons as much as Joe, the child she bore with Matthew, although she ultimately can't do much to stop the hatred that developed between the father and the older sons, led with venom by Widmark's Ben.

Well-crafted and thoughtful as it can be, Broken Lance nevertheless lacks the intimacy to make it a top-flight movie. The early CinemaScope photography places the characters at arm's-length, resulting in more than a few scenes where one is left pondering the antique furniture rather than the story. There are enough gutsy elements to the film to recommend it, however. The movie sensitively handles the issue of mixed-race Joe trying to figure out where he fits in, including a tentative romance with a white woman (Jean Peters) who happens to be the daughter of the state's governor (E. G. Marshall). There's also a bit of proto-environmentalism with Tracy's character sabotaging a local mine which polluted the water supply, killing off the Devereaux Ranch's cattle. The defiant Tracy ends up going on trial for his misdeeds. Being one of the staunch characters the actor was known for, rest assured that things turn out interesting.


Note: images are from promotional sources and do not reflect the quality of the Blu-ray under review.

The Blu-ray:


Video

Twilight Time's limited edition, region free Blu-ray edition of Broken Lance sports a finely detailed 2.55:1 widescreen image derived from a clean, beautifully preserved print. Artifacts and wobble are kept to a minimum in the movie's lovely, color-saturated visuals. The only, small flaw I noticed came in certain outdoor-set scenes appearing too dark, causing an almost day-for-night effect. The underexposed look was probably present in the film's original prints, however, so we'll let it slide. As Tracy stated in another movie, the picture's visual quality is "cherce."

Audio

The film's original stereophonic soundtrack is provided here in 2.0 and 5.0 DTS-HD MA mixes. The Surround effects on the latter are used for basic atmosphere, while keeping the clear dialogue in the central channel. Like the visuals, it's clean and professional. An optional English SDH subtitle track positions each line of dialogue under the characters speaking them, a nice touch.

Extras

A few sweet extras have been provided, calling to mind Fox's wonderful Studio Classics DVDs from the '00s - a Fox Movietone Newsreel segment covering the film's premiere, an Original Theatrical Trailer, and a good, lively Audio Commentary with film historian Nick Redman interviewing actor Earl Holliman (who played dim witted Denny Devereaux) on his memories of the production and other episodes from his lengthy acting career. As with other Twilight Time releases, the disc also includes an Isolated Film Score with Leigh Harline's orchestrations accompanied by isolated bits of studio chatter. Lastly, an 8-page Booklet contains vintage stills and publicity material along with an essay by film historian Julie Kirgo.

Final Thoughts

A family squabble against the dusty vistas of the Arizona desert propels Broken Lance, a smart, stirring adult Western produced by 20th Century Fox at its '50s-era zenith. Twilight Time makes this fever-pitch melodrama into a worthwhile Blu-ray with a presentation worthy of the movie's stately visuals, along with a nice array of bonus stuff. Recommended.


Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.

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