Around the turn of the 20th century, during a harsh northern California winter, members of a ranching family are squabbling among themselves while the two oldest sons go hunting for a panther that is killing their livestock.
A family saga: In a stunning mountain valley ranch setting near Aspen, complex and dangerous family dynamics play out against the backdrop of the first big snowstorm of winter and an enormous panther with seemingly mythical qualities which is killing cattle. An arrogant, pitiless son (Robert Mitchum) and a rigid pharisaic mother side against a moral eldest son and and a defeated alcoholic father while the youngest son tries to lay low, hoping against hope to persuade his family to allow him to marry a girl he has brought to visit. The girl however draws venomous condemnation and the two elder brothers set out in the midst of a violent snowstorm on a dangerous mission to kill the deadly panther.Written by
We are up in the snowy mountains near Aspen, we are in the company of the brooding and feuding Bridges family. Their inner fighting is not the only thing blighting their lives, for a panther is on the loose and as it kills all in its way, it becomes evident that it's also symbolising something deep and foreboding.
Track Of The Cat is directed by the highly accomplished William A Wellman and adapted by A.I. Bezzerides from the novel written by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Hauntingly eerie and dripping with a sense of unease, it's however more triumphant as a technical piece than it is as a crux story driven one. Wellman had long wanted to make a colour film whilst only working from a black and white palette, he does it here and the result is fascinatingly gorgeous, helped no end by ace cinematographer William H. Clothier's CinemaScope cinematography brilliantly bringing the Mount Rainier location to life (the only way to watch this is in widescreen). All the production needed was to get snowy weather, and they got it, and then some! An interesting point of reference to the weather is that lead man Robert Mitchum (Curt Bridges) stated it was the hardest shoot he ever worked on. Some scenes are truly magnificent, atmosphere drips across the sparse snowy ground, with dark trees seemingly waiting to attack the small framed actors, a burial sequence viewed from the POV of the dead is sumptuous - in short the picture looks gorgeous, but what of the core story and acting heart?
Frankly the story is guilty of being over talky, because as we marvel at the surrounds and buy into the sense of dread that hovers throughout, we are subjected to what can only be described as over written waffle, making me I actually wish that I had read the novel prior to viewing the film. The extensive chatter would have been easily forgivable if the pay off via the panther itself was dramatically impacting, but sadly we are robbed of a crescendo ending - something Wellman would later say was an error of judgement (he is rumoured to have even disowned the film at one point). Of the cast, Mitchum is good, moody and bully like, watch as he baits Diana Lynn (poor) as Gwen Williams, while William Hopper puts in a fine turn as Arthur Bridges. The rest? well they are solid enough, though Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer as a very aged portentous Indian raises an unintentional laugh. After plodding around like a decrepit old crippled specimen throughout the picture, he suddenly turns into an Olympic 100 meters champion at the films finale! Yes it's safe to say that Track Of The Cat is a very odd picture indeed. 6/10
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