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Absorbing Western Drama From An Absorbing Urban Drama
jpdoherty14 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
20th Century Fox's BROKEN LANCE ('54) was -alongside "Garden Of Evil - the first western in the then new process of Cinemascope and Stereophonic sound! This was the splendid format which revolutionized picture making and throughout the fifties the studio was the forerunner, and were expert, at producing films in this new medium. Who can forget such memorable classics as "King Of The Khyber Rifles" (' 53), "Beneath The 12 Mile Reef" (' 54), "Untamed" (' 55), "The Last Wagon" (' 56) and "The Bravados" (' 58). All ablaze in that amazing new lifelike widescreen creation!

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!
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OK But Could Have Been So Much Better
jcurbaniak9 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This 1954 western won an Academy Award for Best Writing and Katy Jurado was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

Spencer Tracy is Matthew Deveraux, a self-made Irish (with a name like Deveraux? -- Cajun maybe -- but Irish?) cattle baron owning a huge herd and ranch. He is absolute patriarch over his 4 sons and Indian wife (Jurado), ruling with little feeling for his sons who he treats as hired hands but doting on his spouse.

He does have a soft spot, however, for half-breed son Joe (Robert Wagner) which the other three sons from a previous marriage especially the oldest Ben (Richard Widmark) deeply resent. Joe has fallen in love with Barbara (Jean Peters), the governor's daughter further complicating things as the governor (E.G. Marshall) is highly prejudiced against Indians.

A violent dispute with a copper mining company polluting creek waters leads to all kinds of legal trouble and Matt must sign the ranch away to his sons. Joe becomes the sacrificial lamb and goes to jail for 3 years basically to keep his father free.

Meanwhile Ben now runs the cattle business as he sees fit and in direct defiance of his father's wishes.

The film has beautiful landscape photography that is not to be missed. Both Tracy and Widmark offer strong performances.

But there are some problems here that hold the film down.

Wagner's performance is flat and he is not believable at all as being part Indian. Jurado has little to say or do and how she was Oscar nominated is hard to fathom.

The other two sons portrayed by Earl Holliman and Hugh O'Brian are woefully underdeveloped just going along with whatever Widmark's character wants. By the end of the film they have disappeared entirely.

Compare this with a film like the "The Sons Of Katie Elder" where the group dynamic and personalities of 4 similar western sons are much better developed and explored and you may feel somewhat cheated by what this film could have been.

It's never quite clear (at least to me) why Joe has to go to jail since he did not even start the fight with the copper company. And why the copper company would care if anyone goes to jail (since they get everything they want in the settlement) is also a head scratcher. This just seemed a highly contrived plot device.

Finally, another Indian, Two Moons (Eduard Franz - a serious miscast if I ever saw one), saves Joe at a critical point in the film.

Wny he appears at just the right moment and his devotion to the Deveraux family is never fully explained (at least to my satisfaction).

In fact, there is a whole subplot about Matt Deveraux and the Indians that is touched on but never explored as well. Matt has a surprising respect for wolves (especially for a cattleman) that begged for some further explanation. He is a complex multi-faceted character that should have been better developed.

An average oater saved only by Tracy, Widmark, and the spectacular scenery. It could have been so much better.
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CinemaScope western with a great cast
NewEnglandPat14 March 2006
Spencer Tracy stars in this fine western of a tough cattle baron who is not above taking the law into his own hands to deal with rustlers and trespassers. The film also dwells on the internal strife within the family as three of the rancher's adult sons quarrel over the old man's mistreatment of them and resent his marriage to an Indian woman. The story is told in flashback and begins with the release from prison of Robert Wagner, Tracy's son from the union with his younger wife. The film is a quest for revenge by Wagner who blames his half brothers for Tracy's death while he was behind bars, with Richard Widmark being the leader and instigator against Wagner. Jean Peters appears as Wagner's love interest and Katy Jurado is Tracy's Comanche princess. Tracy's destruction of mining property gets him into big trouble and it is Wagner who takes the blame for Tracy and goes to prison instead of his father, which is the final break between the four brothers. The film was shot in CinemaScope and captures the beautiful expanses of the old west.
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Joseph and his brothers.
dbdumonteil11 November 2003
Although a remake,this western strongly recalls the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis.After all,that's the hero's name ,and his brothers really sell him when they refuse to give more money to the bosses of the copper mine .Leonard Maltin wrote that it owes a deal to "king lear" too,the daughters becoming sons.Richard Widmark is the stand-out and easily outshines the "good" Robert Wagner and his two other brothers who are no more than walk-ons anyway.In his final confrontation with Tracy,he even surpasses the veteran :he succeeds,which is not a small feat, in making us believe that he had a very hard life and that he's not so bad after all.

"Broken lance" ranks among Dmytryk's best works ,more human than "Warlock" and a thousand times better than the latter days ' fiascoes such as "Alvarez Kelly" and the dreadful "Shalako".Released just after the brilliant "Caine mutiny" ,it compares favorably to it,in its own way.The opening is intriguing :we do believe ,for a short while,that Joe (Wagner) is the black sheep of the family ,and then , a long flashback -a device which is rarely used in westerns - brilliantly starting with the patriarch's(Tracy)painting in a deserted house ,tells the whole story.Also unusual is the rather long trial ,a reason for which some will classify the movie as talky,which is unfair,because so many qualities in a western are rare to find.Tracy's death is a real tour de force verging on supernatural.There's also a sensitive wistful performance by Katy Jurado ,as Tracy's second wife .
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A first-rate adult Western...
Nazi_Fighter_David10 June 2000
Tracy is a believable cowboy, nicely balanced for handling a bull whip, riding dangerously the hills...

Tracy plays a despot, absolute ruler cattle baron "making the wrong move with the wrong people," using his force to restrain the pollution of his cattle's stream: "The river is on my land. You are on my land. You close this operation down."

His first three sons (Widmark, O'Brien and Holliman) were unanimously disappointing to him... He considered them cattle thieves, treating them harshly, without mercy... Only the fourth son and the youngest one (Robert Wagner) by his present wife, a Comanche woman played by the clever, quick-witted Katy Jurado has his affection and care... The other sons looks only forward to his demise so they may take control over his cattle empire...

Tracy — irritated and frustrated as a father — expends excessive reasons that arouses the sensation of hate provoking avaricious rebellion, and nearly destroys his younger kid Joe...

It was interesting to follow Dmytryk's study of racial prejudice against the Indian wife of a domineering white father... Interesting to compare the rough resilience of Tracy with his character—isolated by mortal danger in "Bad Day at Black Rock," a character enlightened with real feelings specially in guessing the conclusion... Somehow this is missing in Dmytryk's "Broken Lance" where the autocratic father seems so artificial, an unfavorable comment that can be aimed against the movie itself...

Widmark offers a fine performance as the unlikable eldest son, while Robert Wagner and Jean Peters manage the romantic interlude...

The screenplay, based on 1949s "Home of Strangers" wins an Oscar and the fiery-eyed Mexican star Katy Jurado was nominated for best supporting actress...

Filmed in CinemaScope and Technicolor and with great sceneries of the state of Arizona, "Broken Lance" remains a first-rate adult Western...
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CinemaScope Adds Power to "Broken Lance"
blue-718 May 2005
While Fox's May 18, 2005 DVD release of their 1954 film "Broken Lance" includes both Widescreen and Full Screen Versions (or Pan & Scan), it is the CinemaScope (2.55:1) version that brings the power and grandeur of this exceptional dramatic Western to life -- that along with the excellent 4-track Stereophonic sound track that was part of its original release. It has been 50 years since we have had the opportunity to see the film in the manner that it was first released theatrically -- and in this form it ranks as one of the finest Westerns of all-time. Rchard Murphy's Oscar winning screenplay provides some excellent dialog and story structure not usually found in the average outdoor film. The cast, all the way from Spencer Tracy to smaller roles like that of E.G. Marshall, are all we developed. Now if Fox would only give the same great release treatment to their 1955 "A Man Called Peter" (only available in Pan & Scan VHS)! It would be wonderful to see this film in CinemaScope with Stereophonic sound once again! NOTE: Fox has released "A Man Called Peter" on DVD in a beautiful print since this was original written.
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Will Joseph forgive or seek revenge?
tmwest8 February 2003
When this film came out, the main attraction was that it was in Cinemascope and I cannot remember where this system was better used. This is a great film, one of the best westerns ever made. It starts with a wolf running in the giant landscape and finishes with a wolf howling and Kathy Jurado smiling because she knows what it means. Robert Wagner is called Joseph, and has a lot in common with Joseph in the Bible, because of the way he is treated by his brothers from a different mother, and specially on the issue of forgiveness, which in this case will be represented by whether he will seek revenge or not. Spencer Tracy is the patriarch, he also has in common with the Biblical Jacob the fact that he worked so many years. Richard Widmark is the son who cannot forgive Tracy for having married Jurado, and for having treated him so hard. When he tries to explain to Tracy why he hates him, Tracy gives a great answer telling him that the gates were always open, he could have left like Tracy did in his youth, and the fact that he did not leave reveals Widmark's blind ambition. Tracy and sons fight the people on a copper plant which is polluting the river in a scene very reminiscent of the family going against the railroad in "Duel in the Sun". Make sure to see this film on widescreen.
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Familiar drama with awesome acting , colorful scenarios and rousing score
ma-cortes20 December 2012
This is an enjoyable and luxurious remake from ¨House of strangers¨ in Western style . Cattle baron Matt Devereaux (magnificent Spencer Tracy as the ruthless wealthy owner who sadly contends his sons) is a widower who married an Indian woman (Katy Jurado , though plays Robert Wagner's mother in the film, she was only six years older than him in real life) . The Irish Matt is an egocentric and tyrannical self-made man that raises his family in an environment of hatred . He raids a copper smelter that is polluting his water . As Deveraux swears vengeance on those who have poised his stock . Half-breed son named Joe (Robert Wagner) takes responsibility for the raid and gets three years in jail . Serious conflicts arouse which split the family , as Ben Deveraux (Richard Widmark) attempts to divide the property among his brothers .

This over-the-top film contains intense drama , racial slur , familiar confrontation with dramatic taking on among father-sons and being beautifully realized . Interesting screenplay by Richard Murphy , based on a story by prestigious Philip Yordan . Good and agreeable Western that details the dissolution of a despotic cattle baron's family with King Lear's Shakespeare touches . The picture with exciting plot displays elements of Greek tragedy and a touching finale . It results to be a peculiar version about confrontation between father and brothers ; theme to be treated in other Hollywood films such as ¨House of strangers¨ (1949) also written by Philip Yordan , being directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz with Edward G Robinson (Spencer Tracy role), Luther Adler (Richard Widmark character) , Efrem Zimbalist (Hugh O'Brian role) and Richard Conte (Robert Wagner role) . Spencer Tracy's tour-de-force performance in the climactic courtroom scene was so powerful that it completely captivated the onlooking film crewmen . Richard Widmark as the oldest and meanest brother , in a smaller part that you'd expected from his billing , is nevertheless excellent as a bad guy . The other siblings are played by naive young Robert Wagner , tough Hugh o'Brian and slow witted Earl Holliman . Romantic interest is supplied by the ever vivacious and lovely Jean Peters who married Howard Hughes . Besides , an excellent plethora of secondary actors as Katy Jurado , E.G Marshall , Eduard Franz . Musical score well composed and conducted by Leigh Harline is impressive ; including catching leitmotif and enjoyable sounds from Western . Colorful and evocative cinematography in Cinemascope by Joseph MacDonald .

The motion picture well produced by the great producers Sol C. Siegel , Darryl F. Zanuck was stunningly directed by Edward Dmytryck . A veteran filmmaker, Dmytryck is one of Hollywood's most prolific directors who started his career in the early 40s . He was a craftsman whose career was interrupted by the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a congressional committee that employed ruthless tactics aimed at rooting out and destroying what it saw as Communist influence in Hollywood . A lifelong political leftist who had been a Communist Party member briefly during World War II, Dmytryk was one of the so-called "Hollywood Ten" who refused to cooperate with HUAC and had their careers disrupted or ruined as a result. The committee threw him in prison for refusing to cooperate, and after having spent several months behind bars , Dmytryk decided to cooperate . Dmytrick's biggest film was ¨The Caine Mutiny¨ , but he also realized another mutiny film titled : ¨Mutiny¨ with Angela Lansbury . Edward was an expert on warlike genre as ¨Back to Batan¨ , ¨Battle of Anzio¨ , ¨Young lions¨ and Western as ¨Broken lance¨ , ¨Alvarez Kelly¨ , ¨Warlock¨ among others . Rating : 7 , better than average . It's recommended for Western enthusiasts and Spencer Tracy fans .
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Entertaining Tracy Film with Excellent Cast
Alfriend16 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This film was a western remake of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1949 terrific movie, "House of Strangers". Director, Edward Dmytryk does a great job of opening up the story from an urban one to the sprawling west and directing a strong talented cast. Richard Murphy's screenplay is a character study of a domineering patriarch, Matt Devereaux (Tracy) and his four sons. The youngest is a progeny from a second marriage to a Native-American woman well-played by Katy Jurado. Murphy's story is sleek and fast-paced and includes a sub-plot of racial prejudice rare for Hollywood films of the time. But it is the actors who really are the strength of the film. Robert Wagner turns in a fine performance as the half-Native American son, Joe. Wagner has had a lengthy career and is today mostly known for being "Number 2" in the Austin Powers films. Few people recall the string of great films he performed in during the '50's like this one. Wagner's acting was on a par with the variety of heavy-weights he was often paired off with. Spencer Tracy, not one to suffer fools thought a great deal of the young Wagner and performed in one other film with him a few years later ("The Mountain").

Richard Widmark is terrific as the oldest son, Ben. Very underrated and one of the best actors of his generation, Widmark is the long-suffering son who bears the brunt of the hard-times suffered under his tough father's ambitions for success as a rancher in the roughest of times in the west. The other two sons are ably played by Hugh O'Brian and a young Earl Holliman. Jean Peters is fine as Wagner's love interest. Katy Jurado does a great job in a wonderfully under-stated role as Matt Devereaux's second wife. The rest of the cast includes some great film and theatre veterans, Carl Benton Reid, Eduard Franz, and the great E.G. Marshall.

With all these fine talents this is still Spencer Tracy's film. This is a perfect larger than life character that Tracy fills out so well. Charismatic, strong and appealing, Matt Devereaux is a role that could've been one-dimensional in the hands of a lesser talent. Tracy's presence is even felt in the scenes he isn't in.

This is a fine film entertainment that is sprawling in size in the true measure of 1950's cinema-scope. You'll enjoy it again... and again!
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No Lances Broken Here ***1/2
edwagreen22 January 2006
Spencer Tracy shines in this tale of a cattle baron and his sons.

Starting with nothing, and becoming wealthy, Tracy's wife dies and he remarries an Indian woman, well played by Katie Jurado in an Oscar nominated performance as best supporting actress. She is devoted to her husband. Count the number of times she says my husband in this film. At times, it became somewhat annoying, added to the fact that she had a lisp. Therefore, it became "my huthband." Surprised, the directors didn't point this out unless they thought she could get away with it due to her accent.

Anyway, 2 of the sons are well played by Richard Widmark and Robert Wagner. Widmark is insanely jealous of Joe (Wagner.) He claims how hard he worked, and that Joe, Tracy's son by Jurado, had little to do because by the time he came, they were wealthy.

Financial difficulties lead to a court trial and jailing of Joe who takes the entire rap. A fatal heart attack soon befalls Tracy, who loved Joe deeply, and could not see him taking the blame for all.

Years pass and Joe is released from prison. Widmark, despising him out of jealousy, plans to kill him but is instead killed himself by another Indian.

A better than average western showing complicated and conflicted family values. This is not your run-in-the mill-western. It succeeds because it deals with so many complex issues so well-racism, a changing west, greed, heavy-handed patriarchy, and lost sons. Spencer Tracy was dominant as the difficult father. Both he as best actor and Richard Widmark, in a supporting role, deserved Oscar nominations as well. Earl Holliman shines as a dim-witted brother. Hugh O'Brien is given little to do here.
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Broken House
jcohen123 June 2006
Saw Broken Lance last nite on Encore Western. It's my second viewing. I really enjoyed Spencer Tracy and Kathy Jurado. Tracy is worth the price of admission and Jurado's sad eyes never fail to draw me in. To those who say it's a play on Joseph & his Brothers, I'm sorry I don't agree. Beyond the superficial similarities, Jacob's sons wouldn't have dreamed of disobeying him, let alone harming him the way the Deveraux boys (Widmark, Holliman, O'Brian) do.

The film has what I believe to be the best film courtroom sequences ever, i.e. the cross-examination of Matt Deveraux.

Definitely worth seeing.
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That Dysfunctional Deveraux Family
bkoganbing7 November 2005
Broken Lance is a western remake of All My Sons which unfortunately does not live up to the original. A pity because the talented cast certainly worked hard in this film.

This is the second time that Spencer Tracy played a cattle baron, the first being in Sea of Grass. But he was far more sympathetic there than he is in Broken Lance. In both films he has family troubles and he's wrong in his solution in both.

He's got four sons, three by a wife who died two years after Tracy settled in the west and started building his cattle empire. Tracy remarries, this time to an Indian princess and has another son.

Maybe because his mother's still around, he favors his youngest son and just treats the others like garbage for no real reason. Maybe he just enjoys pitting Richard Widmark, Hugh O'Brian, and Earl Holliman against Robert Wagner for his own sadistic amusement. He also employs her relations as hands on the ranch so he has to keep good relations with the tribe, so he can't treat the youngest like the others.

But whatever reason you kind of understand where the other three are coming from. Even when Widmark later tells Tracy how he didn't enjoy having an Indian squaw for a step mom, the racism in the remark still doesn't tip it back to Tracy and Wagner. Wagner WAS his little pet as Widmark pointed out to him.

Plot begins with Wagner being released from prison after taking a fall for the father. As he decides his next move, the film unfolds in flashback.

A great cast here supports the Deveraux men. Katy Jurado as Wagner's mom is impressive in a thankless role, she loves her husband, but you can see she realizes the mess he's made of the family. Eduard Franz is a good as Robert Wagner's Indian relation and eventual life saver.

Think Bonanza and how much better Ben Cartright dealt with the issue of half siblings.
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Forgettable Story But Tracy, Widmark Shine
ccthemovieman-111 December 2006
This was a little bit different of a western in that a significant segment of the film deals with a trial. Spencer Tracy is excellent as always, this time playing a rough patriarch, head of the "Devereaux" family. In fact, he's the main attraction of the movie despite a bunch of well- known actors and actresses in here.

Of the rest of that crew - Robert Wagner, Jean Peters, Richard Widmark, Katy Jurado, Hugh O'Brien, Earl Holliman, Eduard Frans and E.G. Marshall - only Widmark plays a memorable character.

If the story was a memorable as the cast this would have been super. As it was, it was pretty forgettable, and I am a big fan of westerns. Irs disappointing.
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Best western ever
NRREX20 February 2000
Superb cast with actors of stature in minor roles. Probably the most notable performance of Spencer Tracy's career. Great plot seething with bitterness. The emotional climax is reached when Spencer Tracy finds himself being stabbed in the back by his friends. "I put you in that Governor's chair and I can pull it out from under you," he rages. This is followed by a pathetic scene where he rides out to seek revenge only to collapse with a heart attack.
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A Good Family Western
smithy-831 October 2003
In the 1950's, Hollywood made several good westerns and "Broken Lance" is one of them. "Broken Lance" and "The Searchers" have something in common, they are about a family living in the old west. Except for Katy Jurado, this is everybody's best western. Katy Jurado's best western was "High Noon".

This movie made Robert Wagner a leading man. It's great to see Richard Widmark as a bad guy. Everybody in this movie had a meaty part.
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pretty good western
KyleFurr223 August 2005
This movie has a great cast with Spencer Tracy as the father and owner of a large ranch and and his sons played by Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark, and Hugh O'Brian as his sons. Tracy has been in charge a long time and has a lot of power that got E.G. Marshall elected governor. But everything starts going downhill when two of his sons are caught stealing cattle and Tracy kicks them out. The sons don't think they are being paid enough and Richard Widmark is the first one to turn on his father when he goes on trial for destroying a rival's property. Robert Wagner is the only one to stand up for his father and he winds up going to jail. Katy Jurado plays Tracy's wife and also was in High Noon and One-Eyed Jacks.
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Edward Dmytryk Crafts The Western King Lear.
Spikeopath8 September 2009
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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A believable, hard-hitting family western drama that pits brother against brother for control of a vast ranch
Mickey-228 November 1998
"Broken Lance", made in 1954, starred Spencer Tracy in the role of Matt Devereaux, a rancher whose iron will works better in controlling his cattle empire, than on his own sons. Tracy had married a daughter of an Indian chief, had a son by this marriage, and the three brothers from his earlier marriage have worked up a full head of resentments toward Joe, played by Robert Wagner. Ben, the oldest, played by Richard Widmark, particularly resents Joe, and the relationship held between his father and his half-brother.

Ultimately, the father runs afoul of the legal forces over a matter of a mine polluting the water that his cattle drink from. The ensuing battle in court finds Joe taking the rap, being sent to prison for 3 years, and Ben, finally taking control of the ranch. After Joe is released from prison, he returns to start his life anew, but finds that his father has died, his mother went back to her people, and the brothers would like to see him locate elsewhere. However, Joe has other plans, and he and Ben must settle the conflict between them.
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Epic family drama about pride, racism, injustice and the problem of being right without getting it.
clanciai29 December 2017
There is much symbolism here. What on earth is the meaning of that lonely dog running across the desert in the very opening scene? Don't worry. It will come back for two more appearances, once when one of the duller boys tries to shoot it, averted by Joe, and to conclude the film with a proper exit. And it's not a dog.

The other great symbolism is indicated by the title, the broken lance, which isn't explained until in the end but is actually the major theme of the film: the racism problem between whites, Indians and Mexicans.

It takes some time before Spencer Tracy makes his entry, and when he does you are well prepared. He has already been introduced on a portrait at the governor's, an imposing self-glorious portrait that boasts his mightiness, which is torn away from him shred by shred during the course of the film by his own fallibility. But what a long and grand fall, and how great it makes this character! It could really be described as a Lear of the Western. But this is not a western. It's a family drama and more like a Greek tragedy than anything else, though masked as something of regular western, but the characters go much deeper than what they show.

Richard Widmark as the oldest son who has been misused all his life by his father is actually the villain, but you must understand him and you can't really judge him, just as Joe can't either. Joe is more complex as the youngest brother, son of an Indian woman and not of the mother of the others, and he is constantly brooding and has reasons enough for it. Robert Wagner is almost as good as Richard Widmark and Spencer Tracy, while only Jean Peters falls a little behind.

The central scene, though, and what triggers the drama in the middle of the film is the tremendous settlement between Tracy and the governor, E.G.Marshall, whom Tracy made a governor and reminds him of, but that doesn't help. You can feel Tracy's explosion within although he barely shows it, which only makes it the more tremendously awesome.

His most majestic scene though is his last one. This is Spencer Tracy's film flanked by all the others at their best, which add to make this film one of the best of all westerns, although it's much more than a western.
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"...anybody that throws ten thousand dollars in a spittoon makes me nervous. "
classicsoncall1 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
If you want to see Spencer Tracy in a Western, you'll have to take what you get here in this story of a land baron who alienates his sons but expects their undying loyalty at the same time. Don't get me wrong, Tracy's good here in his role, but the story is a bit convoluted with the renegade sons, and relies on youngest half-brother Joe (Robert Wagner) to take the fall for his father's going off half cocked at a copper mine and destroying a good portion of the company's assets. I couldn't help but feel a little more work could have gone into the story line, and yet it won a 1955 Oscar for Best Writing. Go figure.

Just going by the cast list, this should have been something special. Richard Widmark, Hugh O'Brian and Earl Holliman portray the older three brothers, born of Matt Devereaux's (Tracy) first wife, but their characters were never really developed to any significant degree. All we get is that Ben (Widmark) is the strong willed oldest brother, and Denny is the whiny, sniveling sibling who has a penchant for being disagreeable. Quite honestly, I don't know why O'Brian was even needed in the story, did he even say anything throughout the picture?

Actually, it seemed like Katy Jurado was the force that kept the momentum of the picture on track as Matt's second wife and mother of Joe. Funny, but apparently she didn't have her own name in the story, she just went by Senora Devereaux. The more I see Jurado in these kinds of roles, the more I seem to like her. I guess I'd have to say I enjoyed her best in 1952's "High Noon", a movie that's just about on everyone's favorite Westerns list.

Told in an extended flashback manner, the story eventually catches itself back up in real time to find Matt Devereaux attempting to wield his authority one last time to prevent his sons from selling off parts of his empire to fund other interests. Senora Devereaux uses her influence with son Joe to stop him from seeking revenge on his older brothers, though there is a neat fight between Ben and Joe near the top of a rocky outcrop. My vote for best performance goes to the two stuntmen who filled in at that point; the way they rolled down the side of that mountain looked like it would have been mighty painful.
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The days of solving problems with a gun are coming to an end
Tweekums15 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
As the film begins Joe Devereaux is picked up and told that he is being taken to see the state governor; when he gets there he learns of a deal that has been struck between the governor and his three brothers… he has just finished a three year jail sentence and they want him well away; to this end they give him ten thousand dollars and instructions to be on the night train to Oregon. Instead of accepting the deal he throws the money in the spittoon and rides back to his family's ranch; it has been abandoned for some time but a portrait of his father still hangs over the fireplace. The action then jumps back a few years to when his father Matt Devereaux was still alive and running the ranch. We quickly learn that he is a hard man who pays his sons the same amount that he pays the rest of his hands and thinks nothing of trying to trick Barbara, the governor's daughter, into eating a chilli pepper during dinner. She eats it even after being told what it is and after dinner she and Joe spend some time together and grow close. Shortly afterwards the governor tells Matt that he doesn't want Joe seeing her because he is half Indian; it is clear that this prejudice is the thing that offends Matt the most. Soon afterwards they discover some of their cattle dead; poisoned by the run-off from the nearby copper mine. When they go to visit the manager a confrontation ensues and the mine buildings are destroyed. This is the beginning of the end for Matt; taken to court, he faces losing everything till Joe claims to have drawn first; he is jailed so Matt decides to settle… his other sons won't allow it though. Joe ends up spending three years in jail and his father gradually fades away and dies while his brothers run the ranch the way they want under the leadership of eldest brother Ben. When events catch up with what we saw in the opening scenes Joe says he intends to leave with Barbara; Ben has other ideas though and the two of them must confront each other.

This western was different from most I've seen; usually the cattlemen are fighting each other or trying to run farmers off their land but here a cattleman is in conflict with a mining company and the conflict is resolved on the floor of a courtroom not in the middle of the street with a pair of six-shooters. Spencer Tracy did a fine job as the elderly Matt Devereaux; portraying him as a strong, harsh man who did have a protective side towards his Indian wife and half-Indian youngest son; as his character became broken he remained believable. Robert Wagner did a good job as Joe and Richard Widmark impressed as Ben, the eldest brother who had a long standing, and to a degree justified grievance against his father. Often in films of this era the Native Americans are portrayed as the villains but this film treats them far more sympathetically with one protagonist married to an Indian woman and the other, his son, half Indian; this made a refreshing change. While this isn't this most action packed western I've seen it has enough and the story is good; I'd certainly recommend it to fans of the genre.
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My Kingdom for a Horse
tieman6412 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
One of the more interesting westerns of its era, and pre-dating "Giant", "Hud" and "The Searchers" (three films it resembles) by a number of years, Edward Dmytryk's "Broken Lance" is a Shakespearean western starring Spencer Tracy as a hard-as-nails ranch owner whose mistreatment of his sons proves to have dangerous consequences. There are touches of "King Lear" here, but the film is more fascinating as a political artifact, with its idealised, interracial, inter-ethnic marriages (a white Irish American and a Commanche Native American etc), its treatment of racism, prejudice, envy, and its flashback structure, which hammers home the way in which history, personal and national, always determines the present.

The film features actor Spencer Tracy in another of his politically charged roles. Here the polluting of a river which runs through Tracy's land is aligned to the perceived "polluting" of "pure bred" American bloodlines with Native American blood, the polluting of politics with corruption and the polluting of paternal love and responsibility. Dmytryk then folds the hatred of "half breeds" and "faux Americans" onto Tracy's tyrannical hatred of his own, "pure bred" American sons, raising all sorts of issues regarding the genesis of racism, hate and self-hate. Tracy may privilege Native Americans, but how much does his animosity to whites fuel their own racism?

After some moments of Greek Tragedy and some moments of melodramatic romance, the film then turns into a revenge plot, a young kid (half white, half native) called Joe setting out to kill his three (white) stepbrothers, whom he blames for the death of his father. While modern viewers will find the film dated in some respects, "Broken Lance" is nevertheless one of the more ambitious westerns of the 1950s, and plays like a sequel to Fred Zinnemann's politically charged, but ultimately dubious "High Noon". Dmytryk often tackled prejudice and abuses of power, most notably in "Crossfire", the first noir to focus on anti-semitism. He was a member of the American Communist party, but cracked under the pressure of McCarthyism. In 1951 he'd appear before the House of Un-American Activities Committee, where he'd name almost thirty former members of various left-wing groups. Dmytryk was imprisoned for several months in the 40s (during the Second Red Scare). Films like "Tender Comrade", which he made in 1943, were used to label him a dissident.

"Broken Lance" is a remake of Joseph Mankiewicz's "House of Strangers", but also bares obvious resemblances to Shakespeare's "King Lear", in which a king divides his kingdom between several squabbling sons, to disastrous effect. See Kurosawa's "Ran" for one of the better renditions of "Lear".

8/10 – Seen in context, this is one of the better westerns of its era. Worth one viewing.
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Sprawling western...a classic overshadowed by Tracy's fame in other venues
vincentlynch-moonoi25 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I've been watching in order as many of the Spencer Tracy films as I could as I read the new biography about him. When you pop this film into the DVD player from that perspective, you realize that even though Tracy had starred in a good many great films, with this film he entered truly modern film making.

Here you had wide screen photography, on-location shooting, rich -- but realistic -- Technicolor (I believe this was only his second color film, the first being "Northwest Passage", 14 years earlier), and what I'll call realistic modern (aka gritty) acting by the principals.

There were so many times while watching this film that I thought to myself, "God, what a great actor Spencer Tracy was". And, surprisingly perfect for this particular role. His many years of playing polo, though in the past, made him look very natural in the saddle. As a man, I hate to say this, but his beautiful gray -- almost white -- hair made him look the part of tough western father so perfectly. And his diction, whether being rough on his foolish sons, or tender with his Mexican wife. Even though I had this on my DVD shelf, I'd only watched it once before, but I would have to say this was one of Spencer Tracy's finer performances, and actually a very different role for him.

It's been said that Tracy liked the then young Robert Wagner, who plays the favored (though racially mixed) son in this movie. I've always been rather neutral about Wagner -- liking him in some films, and not so much in others. Here he does an admirable job and manages to look the part. On the other hand, Richard Widmark, who had to suffer through 4th billing on this film, is a wonderful actor, but his scenes in the first half of this film are minor, weak, and his role is just too negative to like his character at all. His stronger scenes come later in the film when you begin to see how impressive his acting could be. Jean Peters and Katy Jurado are excellent, although make no mistake, this is a man's picture. The two other sons -- Hugh O'Brien and Earl Holliman have minor roles -- often in the frame, but with little significant dialog. There were a number of films where Earl Holliman was a whining-son type, and this is one of them...very unlikable type of role, and not demonstrative at all of the level of work he was capable of. Another notable character actor here -- E.G. Marshall -- plays an important role, and does it well, though he does not have much screen time.

There was a time, of course, that Westerns were a dominant force in both motion pictures and television. And, when I was young I loved them. But Westerns are passé, and it is a rare Western that can hold my attention today. This is one such film. It isn't often that I give an "8", but I will here. This is a extremely fine motion picture that deserves a place on your DVD shelf.
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They Were Stealing His Cattle
jzappa8 November 2011
A Western at the same time it's a universal story, Edward Dmytryk's sorrowful CinemaScope film concludes an individual validation for dropping dimes before the HUAC. He views himself maintained by a society preoccupied with traditions drained of their importance, and everything he cares for deceived by his strong-willed loyalty to an older set of principles. While Philip Yordan and Richard Murphy's script is akin to King Lear, it's more precise to christen it an end-of-the-line outing that would emerge much more in the Western genus throughout the '60s. Yet the movie is the bell toll for one man's rosy picture, and what's absorbing is the degree to which the demise of this guy's faith touches in virtually the same tone as the dispersal of the Old West as a genre. The legend of machismo as it's fixed in the Western illuminates itself precisely with this one instance.

The baby of Matt Devereaux's four sons, Joe is swarthy and modest, the pacifist and a natural to inherit Matt's demanding cattle territory. Regrettably, he's obstructed by the bitterness of his oldest half-brother, Ben, and the reality that his mother is Senora, an Indian whom Matt's partners equivocate as Mexican but whose lineage marks Joe an outcast, a half-breed. When Joe becomes smitten with the governor's gutsy daughter Barbara, the governor himself, E.G. Marshall, in one of the film's paramount episodes, communicates to Matt his remorse that he can't excuse Joe's birth legacy. As the movie begins, Joe is sprung from prison and accompanied to the governor's office, where his brothers propose a kickback to tempt him to trade his share of the family farm, which has laid barren by his idling half-brothers since his imprisonment.

The presence of familial distortion looms over Broken Lance, unavoidable and hopeless to camouflage. Joe's charm, his basic indomitable integrity, is his advantage in a pitiless life. When Matt brandishes a bullwhip against the copper mill owner polluting his herd's spring, or when Joe asserts that he has no recourse but to bite the bullet for his father's temper, there's a sense of dignity in its brute reasoning: the old man fighting his own relinquishment in the only way he knows, and the progeny maturing, forgoing his innocence to relieve the failings of the forebearers. A poignant film from the first astounding CinemaScope panorama to the last, this character-driven cowboy drama, in its analysis of the faction of masculinity, searches the ideal uncertainties of an ideal Western at the same time it moves forward in its understanding and sympathy for the little guys and the racial unrest of the era. And it situates as one of the earliest dirges to the fading of the West.

All the opulent colors are positioned in visual leadership of a verdant production. The use of sound and music is remarkable, indicative of wise division of the film medium's powers and, particularly in Joe's homecoming to the family stomping grounds, a startling amount of directional atmospherics for its time. And what I suspected least, riveting, crackling dialogue. And effective in its economy, too, like when Joe tells Barbara he's a half-breed. "Anyone still call you that?" she asks. "Not since my first day in school." The ultimate howl of a symbolically significant coyote resounds one of the most powerful punctuations of any Western I've seen.
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