BROKEN LANCE was a western remake of the studio's earlier "House Of Strangers" (' 49) and the change of setting suited the highly charged taut drama quite well! Richly photographed in colour in the new process by the great Joe McDonald it was solidly directed by Edward Dmytryk. Splendidly written and developed by Richard Murphy from Philip Yordan's original screenplay it was well acted by a nicely chosen cast. Spencer Tracy - in one of his rare forays into a western - plays Matthew Devereaux, the irascible autocratic cattle rancher who because of his harsh nature and domineering ways causes great enmity with his four sons. With one son Joe (Robert Wagner) there is a mutual respect but he treats the three others with derision and dissension. This eventually leads the eldest son Ben (Richard Widmark) wanting to take over the ranch. After an altercation - which causes the father to have a stroke - the story culminates in the ailing Matthew riding out after his three errant sons to prevent them from selling off the land and dying in the saddle from the exertion and strain of the pursuit. It is a wonderfully executed intense and powerfully dramatic sequence!
Although he dabbled before in the genre and even played a cattle baron seven years earlier in "Sea Of Grass" (' 47) it is nonetheless unusual to see Tracy in a western! But he is excellent here in the role of the domineering patriarch out west and delivers the goods as if westerns were a common thing for him! (two years later he was to play a similar part in MGM's "Tribute To A Bad Man" (' 56) but was replaced by James Cagney at the last minute). The supporting cast were good too! Besides Wagner and Widmark the other brothers were played by Hugh O'Brien and Earl Hollimann. The lovely Jean Peters has the female lead but really has little to do in an under written part! But Katy Jurado gives a nice restrained performance as Tracy's Indian wife and earned an Oscar nomination for her efforts.
Besides the stunning Cinemascope/colour Cinematography on locations in southern Arizona the picture also has a stunning score by the ever underrated and little known composer Leigh Harline! Harline was an interesting movie composer! He was born in Utah in 1907. After attending the University of Utah he joined the Utah Radio Orchestra. In Hollywood from the early thirties he went to work for the Disney Studios where he wrote the music for "Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs" and also for "Pinocchio" (' 40) from which came the huge song hit "When You Wish Upon A Star". This tune assured lifelong financial comfort for Harline! He stayed in Hollywood and worked mostly on a free-lance basis. Alfred Newman liked his work and had him score many of Fox's top pictures such as "House Of Bamboo" (' 55), "True Story Of Jesse James" (' 56), "The Enemy Below"(' 57) and "Warlock" (' 59). His music from BROKEN LANCE is probably his best work! The Main Title is a powerfully dramatic and engaging statement for full orchestra! Scored for baying brass and striking bravura strings - with faintly humming female chorus - it is at once thrilling and exhilarating! This theme is used in different guises throughout the picture and creates great impact first as Devereaux and his ranch hands ride across some magnificent Cinemascope landscapes in hot pursuit of some cattle rustlers and then again for the final chase sequence! There is also an Irish melody to point up the main protagonist's Irish background and a gentle love theme for the film's softer moments for scenes with Wagner and Peters. Thankfully this fine score has been preserved on an excellent record album! Harline's last score was his excellent music for "The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao" (' 64). He died in 1969!
So quite a satisfying movie all round! It perhaps is not, and never will be, regarded as a brilliant western but it will always be remembered as a splendid reworking of the "King Lear" tale in a most pleasing, handsome and dynamic Cinemascope setting!