With his home burned to the ground, his wife killed, and his ten-year-old son, David, rendered mute after witnessing the traumatising incident, the former Confederate soldier, John Chandler, arrives in a small, post-Civil War Illinois community. Eager to move on with his life, and desperate to find an effective treatment for the boy, instead, John finds himself drawn into a fight with the two sons of the ruthless and unscrupulous sheep-farmer, Harry Burleigh, facing a severe $30 fine or thirty days of incarceration. As the strong, kind, and compassionate rancher, Linnett Moore, decides to intervene for the sake of David, providing food and shelter, before long, John will find himself involved in a long-standing feud. Now, faced with a cruel dilemma, John must choose between running away or putting down roots. But, can a proud Rebel find peace and love in Yankee territory?Written by
A classic rendering with many interesting ingredients
The boy, David, is the focal point of this movie. The movie had a resounding impact on young boys coming of age in the late 50s and into the 60s. Its powerful impact at the time is what made it a successful movie. The many emotional ups and downs throughout the movie dealt with a wide variety of issues faced by a devoted war veteran father from the south, trying hard to steer away from violence as he travels the Midwest seeking medical resolution to his traumatized son who had been struck by aphasia after witnessing his mother's burning death in a Civil War atrocity . Some of the issues viewers are exposed to include the tragedies during and after the Civil War, the western range wars, the disenfranchisement of the southerners, an evil rancher and his evil sons, a frontier love story, and a son-dog-father saga. The traumatized boy-cum-hero is superbly portrayed by child actor, David Ladd, who becomes the film's hero at the climatic gunfight at the end of the movie, saving his father, reuniting with his dog and regaining his voice. The developing love story between the father portrayed by the ever stoic and stiff Alan Ladd and the widower farmer portrayed by Olivia de Havilland, takes second stage to the tear-jerking scenes superbly portrayed by the boy in two scenes: when he learns that his father had sold his dog, and when he regains his ability to speak at the end of the movie. A well-crafted movie and an outstanding performance by David Ladd who was eleven years old when the film was released.
The theme of the skilled gunfighter trying to lead a gun-free productive civilian life but is thwarted and forced back to his firearm to right an injustice, is a theme that recurs numerous times in western movies. In fact, this theme is quite common in the most successful of westerns including this movie, Shane and High Noon. The overriding message of this genre of movies is: if you are unjustly treated (justice commonly portrayed as inept or corrupt), then you may take up arms and take justice into your own hands, even if it means killing others. The hero and his gun are paramount.
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