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Incestern: Pursued (1947)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 27, 2013 06:54pm | Post a Comment
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Just watched this on blu-ray. As Martin Scorsese says in his introduction, Pursued is known as the first Western Noir. That's because it features cinematography by James Wong Howe, one of the best at conveying the menace of the big city through its shadows (cf. Sweet Smell of Success), and here he treats the alleys (or, maybe, just alley) of the small town in New Mexico as if it were every bit as dangerous as New York's hidden arteries. He even gets claustrophobic configurations off of barns in the middle of the day. Contemporary Westerners could learn a thing or two from him, too, about how to shoot a man on a horse: counter the heroic three-quarter shots with ones of his reduced significance against an infinite landscape. Another noirish characteristic is Robert Mitchum, as Jeb Rand, narrating the movie through a diddly-diddly flashback as if everything's preordained (cf. Out of the Past) with his present situation the only possible world. Along with the flashback comes a lot of Freudian-inspired psychosexual plot twists that were really popular among scenarists of the time. 'Solid' is as good a word as any to describe director Raoul Walsh, so it's the sexual suggestions that make the film into something a bit more special (which I'm guessing came from Nevin Busch's script). His matter-of-fact style adds to the perversity, whereby all the questionable emotional entanglements seem commonplace.

After losing his family to a blood feud with the Callums, Jeb is taken in at a very early age by Mrs. Callum, who raises the boy as a son. She has two children around the same age as Jeb, daughter Thor (short for Thorley) and son Adam. Jeb's only memory of life as a Rand is that he keeps his name and has a recurring nightmare of a spurred boot heel grinding into the ground. Everything else is repressed, but that doesn't matter to the one-armed stranger, Grant Callum, whose only goal in life is to erase the name Rand from existence. Along with occasionally taking a shot himself, Grant acts as a slick talking demiurge, convincing others to help him kill Jeb -- one of whom is Adam. Not that this was particularly difficult, since the selfish prick has held a long simmering animosity against Jeb whom he sees as an intruder. What his adopted brother intruded on was the two-way relation with Thor. These three kids are raised in a ranch version of Flowers in the Attic with few contacts but each other and Mrs. Callum. Leaving Adam a third wheel, Thor and Jeb eventually fall in love and decide to get hitched -- as if one can freely choose to no longer see one's sibling as a sibling. To reinforce this incestuous theme, it's revealed that the reason Grant hates Jeb so much is that the boy's father stole Mrs. Callum away from Grant's brother (Adam and Thor's father) ... that's right, just like Jeb stole Thor away from her brother. Furthermore, the narrative never makes it clear who the boy's biological mother is or when Mrs. Callum's affair took place and how long it lasted. All we know is that Grant sure wants to get rid of the Rand boy. Maybe he would've been doing Thor's future children a favor, but we'll never know for sure due to the sibling union being treated with the Production Code's mandated happy ever after.

Relevant Tags

Pursued (1), Raoul Walsh (1), Western (3)