Twenty-five years ago the Lavery baby was kidnapped. Bad guy Leffingwell gets Choya to impersonate the son to gain the Lavery estate. When he finally fesses up to his "sister" Ruth she is furious. To redeem himself he sets out to find the real son. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It is almost pity that Alan Ladd made such a lasting impact in "Shane." So closely is he identified with the role that many of his other worthy efforts have been undeservedly pushed into the background.
"Branded' is a case in point. As a western it may not pique everyone's interest, but as a morality play (as most good westerns are), it is an interesting study in personal identity, lost and found.
Ladd plays one of his icy gunmen, this time a small-time bandit named "Choya" who "lives by his wits" but is reaching the age where he "figures his luck's running out." He becomes involved in a scheme to bilk a wealthy cattle rancher by posing as the long lost son who was kidnapped by bandits some 25 years earlier. All goes well until he arrives at the Lavery ranch only to meet a loving, trusting family which welcomes him with open arms. It is the kind of love and warmth he has never known and, for the first time in his life, begins to question his motives. Resolving that he cannot go through with the sham, he sets out to find the real son and return him to the family.
The film is a good showcase for Ladd whose talents are generally overlooked (unfairly) by today's audiences. He appears in almost every scene and dominates it without deliberately bringing attention to himself. But equal credit must go to the supporting players who attack their roles with vigor and enthusiasm. Charles Bickford (who never, it seems, gave a bad performance) dignifies the proceedings with his presence as Lavery, the firm but fair cattle baron. Robert Keith is scornful as Leffingwell, a weasel of a man who knows his limitations but who also knows how to survive through cunning and maleficence. Joseph Calleia excels as Rubriz, the notorious Mexican bandit and the true son's adoptive father, whose character is not entirely reprehensible and whose plight is worthy of our sympathy. And Mona Freeman is fine as the rancher's naïve but pretty daughter. She looks just angelic enough to lend credibility to Choya's reformation.
"Branded" is a beautiful film to watch. Shot in Arizona, it's colorful, sweeping landscapes and wide open spaces are a real treat for the eyes. It also, in many ways, hearkens back to the early westerns of William S. Hart which date from 1914 to 1925, when movies were still in their infancy. All the ingredients are there: from the good-badman's colorful nickname to his first glimpse of the pretty woman who sets him on the straight and narrow trail to the mutual admiration that eventually develops between the protagonist and his adversary. As in Hart westerns, the violence is minimal, serving only to advance the plot and not to provide pointless gunplay for the sake of trigger-fast action. Hart's films were the first westerns which explored adult themes (not to be confused with the later formulaic Saturday matinée fare) and are certainly worth a look. But they are silent and if silent movies do not appeal to you, "Branded" is the way to go. You can't do much better than this.
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