Released in 1954, Broken Lance addressed the growing concern of “race relations” “race relations” from the standpoint of the Old American West. A reworking of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s House of Strangers (1949), the film addresses the issue of so-called ‘half breeds’—a person whose parents are of different races, often half white and half Native American.
After three years in the state penitentiary, Joe Devereaux (Robert Wagner), recalls the events that led to his imprisonment. Matt Devereaux (Spencer Tracy) is a proud and stubborn cattle baron. Devereaux built his empire with little compassion, treating his sons, which also include his three sons from his late wife, Ben (Richard Widmark), Mike (Hugh O’Brian), and Denny (Earl Holliman) as little more than hired hands. The three are bristling under their father’s close eye, their meager salary of $40 a week and still smarting over their father’s remarriage years before.
Matt is openly affectionate towards his second wife, a Native American Princess, referred to as Señora Devereaux (Katy Jurado, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress) and their son, the aforementioned Joe. The elder Devereaux sons look on their half-brother as a ‘half-breed’ and treat him with disdain. Even so, when Matt catches Mike and Denny stealing a few cattle to supplement their income, Joe tries to intervene on their behalf. Matt will have none of it and banishes them from the ranch.
Eventually, Matt’s brash attitude and his disregard for the laws that don’t suit him result in a threat of jail. Joe is the only one of his sons willing to take the three-years of hard labor to spare his aging father. Three years, though, might as well have been an eternity. With Joe locked away in prison, Ben, Mike and Denny take over the ranch; their father left watching from his sick bed, as land and mineral rights are sold off. Matt Devereaux dies in a last, desperate attempt to stop his sons from selling land he worked so long and hard to own. Meanwhile, Joe is determined to get revenge on his half-brothers as soon as he leaves prison.
Written by Philip Yordan who won an Oscar for Best Story, Broken Lance is at its best when focusing on the familial discord between Matt and his unhappy sons. Spencer Tracy is exceptional during these scenes. His performance carries a believable level of hostility few actors can achieve. Unfortunately though, the script is often sidetracked by lesser material that brings the overall story down. Chief among these is Joe’s romance with the Governor’s daughter (Jean Peters) who is also Matt’s niece. Predictably, the Governor (E.G. Marshall), objects to the romance on racial grounds. The romance angle is bland and takes screen time away from the much more interesting Devereaux family dynamics. While O’Brian and Holliman stay on the periphery of things, Widmark and Wagner do strong work as feuding brothers who just can’t find common ground.
Presented in the 2.55:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of a Fox CinemaScope outing offers up some unforgettable vistas. While color is good, it does look slightly faded in a few scenes, which may be the result of restorative efforts. The image is sharp and clean, with only a few second unit shots out of focus. Flesh tones look natural and grain resolves nicely.
Broken Lance features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 track recreating the film’s original 4 track stereo theatrical presentation, as well as a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 option. The 5.0 track offers a nice spread of Leigh Harline’s score and prioritization of effects. Dialogue is clean throughout and well presented.
English subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Film Historian Nick Redman and Actor Earl Holliman: Twilight Time’s Nick Redman welcomes Holliman, who shares his memories of working on the film, Holliman also talks about his life and other aspects of career. If you’re like me and love listen to folks who have spent years working in Hollywood, this one is well worth a listen.
- Isolated Score Track is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
- Fox Movietone Newsreel (SD, 0:52) A short piece on the 1954 Oscars.
- Trailer #1 (SD, 2:39)
- Trailer #2 (SD, 2:29)
- Six Page Booklet: Contains color stills, a black and white original movie poster on the back cover and film historian Julie Kirgo’s keen assessment of the film.
There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via their website at www.twilighttimemovies.com or via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.
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