Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Branded (Paramount, 1950)

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Branded (Paramount, 1950)

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Branded was the Western directorial debut of cinematographer Rudolph Maté, who went on to direct a good number of oaters, such as The Violent Men and The Far Horizons (though the latter was a bit stodgy).  In this first one he used cameraman Charles B Lang Jr (“Ah, Charlie Lang, one of the great ones,” as James Coburn used to say) and together they produced a visually superb Western with Alan Ladd.
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Maté
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Lang
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Filmed in Arizona (which has to do duty for Texas and Mexico but that’s alright) and also in Kanab, Utah, it glows. Shots are framed beautifully and there is some impressive long-focus work. There are the inevitable indoor sound-stage scenes, regrettably, especially at the beginning, but you forgive that for the truly ‘Western’ setting in most of the film.
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The plot is the one about a man passing himself off as the long-lost son of a rich rancher, falling for his ‘sister’ and then ‘fessing up because he was decent really. It is said to be based on a story by Max Brand.
William S Hart had done something similar back in the silent days and the plot of Gary Cooper’s talkie The Texan (1930), based on a story by O Henry, was so similar as to be not a coincidence. Whether Brand plagiarized Henry or what, I don’t know, but a look at the two films will underline their pretty well identical plots – see here for our review of The Texan.
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This version adds a trip to Mexico to fetch back the real son, adopted by a bandit chief Rubriz (Joseph Calleia, an actor who was never less than excellent) who can’t bear to see the boy go. It’s melodramatic and intricate but it certainly carries you along. It was by pulpmeister ‘Evan Evans’ (aka Max Brand). By the way, Joseph Calleia was to be the best thing about a later Ladd Western, The Iron Mistress.
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Supporting acting is decent. Charles Bickford and Selena Royle are the parents and do it well. Mona Freeman is the sis and is attractive and spirited. Robert Keith is the satisfactorily loathsome villain who kidnapped the real son all those years ago and who must obviously therefore come to a sticky end. Milburn Stone, Doc from Gunsmoke, is in it. The music (Roy Webb) is nice too.

 

So we have a great Western on our hands, right?
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Wrong. Reason why? Alan Ladd. Ladd, with his Beverley Hills tan and coiffed locks, just doesn’t cut it in our noble genre, as he was to prove three years later by being fatally miscast as Shane. Here, duded up in Two-Gun Tex rig and with his Stetson pushed back on his head to show his slicked blond hair, he just does not convince. Western heroes are not suave and silky smooth. I’m sure he was a nice fellow and I don’t want to be unkind. He was a good actor, without a doubt, but in a role where he had to be a tough gun-totin’ Westerner, he just hadn’t got it. Sorry, he lets this movie down.

 

Where he is good, however, is in the emotional relationships. An unconvincing gunslinger and outlaw, Choya (Ladd) becomes increasingly uncomfortable living the lie. He is benefiting from the parental love and trust that he himself obviously never had, but to which, now, he is not entitled. “All my life, I’ve been a snake,” he says. “I’ve lived by my wits. I’ve gotten what I’ve wanted any way I wanted it. Just lately I’ve been wondering just for once if I couldn’t do something straight, do something a little decent.” Ladd is extremely subtle in these scenes and as Choya’s despicable conduct looks as though it will make him inherit the whole huge ranch, his emotional struggle is palpable and very well played.
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It’s the action he couldn’t do. In the very opening scene he is a gunfighter, holed up in a store he’s robbing. With the storekeeper as hostage, he breaks out and runs for the hills. It doesn’t convince one bit.
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Never mind. It’s not at all bad as a Western and definitely worth a look.

 

 

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