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Lance Poole, an Indian who won a Medal of Honor fighting at Gettysburg, returns to his tribal lands intent on peaceful cattle ranching. But white sheep farmers want his fertile grass range and manage to turn the ostensibly civilized white population against the tribes, with tragic results. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
After an unsuccessful May 1950 press preview, Metro shelved the film. The grim movie was superbly made, but its uncompromising, downbeat story seemed to spell box-office disaster. After the release of the more mainstream "Broken Arrow," the following fall, it did get some bottom-of-the-bill bookings in neighborhood grind houses but little business and has remained little seen. See more »
Anthony Mann's first western maybe one of the best ever done and sad to say it was probably overshadowed by the more popular Broken Arrow which also dealt sympathetically with the plight of the American Indian.
Right after Devil's Doorway Mann did Winchester 73 and a whole slew of films with James Stewart, mostly westerns and well received ones at that. Devil's Doorway should be grouped with those films as well as a cinema classic. My guess is that it is because Mann never did another film with Robert Taylor. If anyone knows why, please let me know.
Robert Taylor gives one of his best screen performances as Lance Poole, Union Army veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor winner and full blooded Shoshoni Indian. He's returned to his ranch in Wyoming hoping to pick up the pieces of his civilian life. Taylor has bought into the ideals of the Civil War. He in fact went to war to free another group of people from slavery.
It's one big disillusioning process as he discovers that Indians need not apply for a piece of the American dream. The Homestead Act which Abraham Lincoln signed during the Civil War specifically excludes Indians from its provisions.
Louis Calhern portrays one of the most loathsome villains of his career as Verne Coolan, a lawyer who apparently for no other reason than his own hatred of the red man, stirs up hatred and resentment against Taylor and the Shoshonis. He brings in sheepherders to homestead in the valley that Poole has his ranch on, knowing full well it will be the start of a range war with racial overtones. The entrance to Taylor's valley is known as the Devil's Doorway.
Calhern has an equally loathsome henchman played by James Millican who starts a bar fight that Taylor finishes. It's a brutal one, ranking right up there with the one in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Other noteworthy performances are by Edgar Buchanan as the town marshal who is torn between his friendship for Taylor and the discriminatory law he's sworn to enforce. Also Paula Raymond and Spring Byington as a female attorney and her mother, quite radical in those days. Although overtly Taylor and Raymond have a business relationship, there is a gleam in Raymond's eyes whenever Taylor's around.
Oddly enough six years later Taylor saw cinematically how the other half lived when in The Last Hunt he played buffalo hunter Charlie Gilson who had a hate for the Indian the equal of Calhern's here.
Although Broken Arrow got all the acclaim and deserved it, it is a pity that Devil's Doorway did not get more attention. Catch this very special film whenever it is broadcast.
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