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on 25 January 2008
There are many three star workaday westerns that were churned out by the studios between the 1930s and 1950s and there are the great classics such as Stagecoach, The Man who shot Liberty Valance, The Searchers and The Outlaw Josey Wales. In between are a set of superior westerns that have good casts and strong storylines usually with fine cinematography. Broken Lance is one of these. Loosely (very) based on King Lear it tells of the downfall of the dictatorial cattle baron at the hands of three of his sons and the revenge plotted by the remaining half brother after an unfair three years in jail.

It is a strong cast with Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark and the young newcomer, Robert Wagner - strong acting by all three not matched really by the rest of the cast who tend to be a bit peripheral.

It is beautifully shot and not against the usual background of Monument Valley. It also has a strong oscar winning screenplay.
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'Matt Devereauxe' (Spencer Tracy) has built up his ranch over many years, he's always been a man that lives by his own rules,
regardless of who he might have trampled on along the way.......divide and rule.
When 'Matt' raids a 'smelter' for contaminating the ranches water supply, youngest son 'Joe' (Robert Wagner) steps up to the
mark taking the blame and being served a prison sentence.
The divide between 'Matt' and his eldest 'Ben' (Richard Widmark) comes to a head, the argument so heated quick-tempered
'Matt' suffers a stroke.
'Ben' takes over the running of the ranch with brothers 'Mike' (Hugh O'Bran) and 'Denny' (Earl Holliman) ...'Joe's' determination
to run the ranch his way and sell land will kill his now incapacitated father
'Joe' has been festering in prison with just one thing on his mind ...revenge.
A story of family divides in the West during the 1880's.
An all-star line-up in this well-crafted and gritty Western released way back in 1954.
(The Blu-ray upgrade is a marked improvement in picture quality to the DVD version)
Currently available as a Spanish-Import ....the language switch easy to do.
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With both it being based on Shakespeare's King Lear and being a Western remake of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's tasty film noir, House of Strangers, Broken Lance had fine sources from which to work from. Throw in to the mixer that it stars Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark, Katy Jurado, Robert Wagner and Earl Holliman, and that Joseph MacDonald was director Edward Dmytryk's cinematographer of choice, well it's all set up to be a highly accomplished piece.

And it is!

Dmytryk's film tells the story of how the Devereaux family came to implode. Father Matt {Tracy}, is a tough no nonsense pioneer who after finding a copper smelter has polluted his water, illegally raids the copper mine with destructive vengeance. Matt has four sons, his three eldest are a disappointment to him, but his youngest, Joe, from his latest marriage to a Commanche woman {Jurado}, is untainted by his own bitterness. But it's Joe who takes the rap for the copper mine raid and gets sentenced to three years jail. When Joe comes out he finds that his brothers have driven his mother away and all but destroyed the family empire, including his father. Joe {Wagner} has scores to settle, especially with the oldest, and nastiest brother, Ben {Widmark}.

The screenplay comes from Richard Murphy, who, reworked Philip Yordan's House Of Strangers screenplay, bagging Yordan the Best Writing Oscar at the 1955 Academy Awards in the process. And it's not hard to see why. Murphy and Dmytryk have fused together a number of intelligent strands in their picture. Not merely a tale of vengeance that dallies with black sheep of the family like thematics, it also serves up racial prejudice issues, and those of greed and corruption. It's for sure what one would term a talky piece, tho the copper mine raid itself is a pulse raiser, but it's with the talk and how it's put together that makes Broken Lance worthy of its place on any "Adult Western" list. For its court room sequences and a memorable scene involving Tracy and Widmark alone it deserves praise from the genre faithful.

Acting wise there are very few disappointments. Tracy is terrific, as is Widmark, while the youthful Wagner gets away with the obvious problem of him playing a half Indian, by bringing an emotionally honest integrity to the role of Joe. Katy Jurado, who was Oscar nominated for supporting actress, is sweet and showing deft sadness in the thankless role of wife and mother, Señora Devereaux. The itches are with the others, thru no fault of their own really. Both Holliman and Hugh O'Brian as the other two brothers are practically observers in proceedings, both men never really getting to add some weight into the family drama. Jean Peters as Joe's love interest, Barbara, is an important character in the story, yet she's never fully formed. Minor problems aside tho, this is an engrossing and gorgeous picture. So with Leigh Harline's lyrical score complimenting MacDonald's sumptuous Arizona photography {the film was shot in Technicolor CinemaScope and sound mixed in 4-Track Stereo} try and see this on the best system you possibly can, because it's worth it. 8/10
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No one could dispute that Spencer Bonaventure Tracy was one of the great stars of Hollywood's golden age. In an era when most of the big names had appeared in westerns, Tracy's CV was devoid of even one until 1954 when he made "Broken Lance", and that fine contemporary western "Bad Day at Black Rock" back to back. What a pity that he didn't make another as these two films are very good indeed. We quickly realise how Tracy's character dominates "Broken Lance" when in an early scene we see a painting of him astride his horse in heroic pose. Both the music and atmosphere indicate his all pervading presence. The role was crying out for a great actor and it got one!

Tracy plays the hard nosed ranch patriarch of a troubled feuding family who has hewn out his empire through toil and sweat......and sometimes the law of the rope! Violence hovers over the film like a bird of prey. Tracy's rancher comes from a dynasty of such western characters who are carved from the same block of granite. John Wayne's Thomas Dunson from Howard Hawk's great epic "Red River"(48) is perhaps the most memorable. James Cagney's harsh rancher in the fine "Tribute to a Bad Man"(56) and Edward G Robinson's cattle baron in "The Violent Men"(55) are kindred spirits. Men, who in the absence of established law and order dispense their own brand of justice. But as Bob Dylan sang "the times they are a changing". The days of tooth and claw are numbered!

Like "Duel in the Sun"(46), the film centres around a cattle family at war with itself. Richard Widmark, surely one of the screens greatest baddies, plays the sly older brother who manipulates his gullible younger brothers to try and cheat their favoured Indian half brother out of his rightful inheritance. Robert Wagner plays the mixed race youngest brother who resembles a latter day Joseph set upon by jealous brothers. The film heads to a gripping conclusion and plays out like a Greek tragedy. The film is a western remake of Joseph L Mankiewicz's American film noir "House of Strangers(48). The superb ensemble cast includes Earl Holliman and Hugh O'Brian as the duplicitous younger brothers, and the solid as ever Katy Jurado as Tracy's Indian wife. Joseph MacDonald's sharp cinematography and Edward Dmytryk's assured and edgy direction compliment the fine cast. Dmytryk went on to direct another screen giant in the form of Henry Fonda in the fine western "Warlock"(59), also backed up by Widmark. The film deservedly won the academy award for best story by Philip Yordan.

Whilst this film is certainly no model for happy families it is powerful and heady stuff. Tracy and Widmark are both given juicy roles which they seize with relish. This is a well crafted and enjoyable western. Western classics brought a few decent westerns to DVD and this is another good example. Recommended! It is nice to note that that Hugh O'Brian, Earl Holliman and Robert Wagner are all still extant. Very unusual for a film of this vintage!
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on 16 December 2010
Broken Lance was made in 1954 and beautifully shot around Monument Valley. Leading the cast is Spencer Tracy playing a tyrannical rancher, who find out as the story progresses has built up his empire from an early age and now in his sixties, his fights with other ranchers and towns folk are legendary and he feels he is a law unto himself. He is remarried to an indian woman who has bore him a son (Robert Wagner in an early role ) but he has three other sons from a previous marriage - Richard Widmark, Hugh O'Brian and Earl Holliman. All three sons want dad to sell the ranch as times are changing and they want their cut, but this ain't happening.

This is not your usual run of the mill western, but has more to do with an internal family feud with Wagner doing his best to be the peacemaker. The acting honours go to Spencer Tracy who again shows what he's good at - being stubborn and antagonistic with Richard Widmark following close behind as eldest son feeling cruelly ill-done by, and coming under the father's whip more than anyone else.

This film was a wonderful production for its 1954 release.
Next time you are at the theatre watching KING LEAR, see if you notice any similarities between Shakespeare's play and this movie........If you don't, well I'll eat my hat, or my horse.
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on 20 October 2010
A great movie, full of Shakespearean plots and twists. Widmark and Tracy are on superb form.
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on 25 February 2015
great product. great buy.
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on 6 January 2013
great westwern with a supberb cast. Spencer tracy and richard widmark were explosive, and the supporting cast including a young robert wagner were very good.
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on 2 October 2015
A movie I have always enjoyed an improvement with blue ray
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on 23 November 2014
arrived on time and met all my husbands expectations
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