Track of the Cat
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Time Out saysA magnificently dark, brooding Western - Wellman's second adaptation of a Walter Van Tilburg Clark novel (he also wrote The Ox-Bow Incident) - set during the 1880s on a small, isolated ranch in the Californian mountains, where the depredations of a mountain lion bring simmering family resentments to a head. The god-fearing puritanism of the matriarch (Bondi) has turned sour in her favourite son (Mitchum), brought up to ignore feelings and simply grab what he wants; another son (Hopper), a gentle soul, is mystically in tune with nature; the rest of the family have retreated into a variety of repressions and resentments. Scorning the idea that the marauding beast might be the 'black painter' of legend (spirit of the agelessly old, dispossessed Indian kept about the place as a handyman, Hopper suggests), Mitchum sets out to hunt and kill it. A little perfunctory compared to the novel, where the hunt turns into a dark night of the soul as the hunter gradually realises he has become the hunted, these scenes nevertheless have an extraordinary charge (and weird beauty, with the snowy landscapes shot by William H Clothier in black-and-white on colour stock), reinforcing the subtextual theme that the virgin land is at last exacting revenge on the pioneer who raped it.