Thursday, April 19, 2007


"They've as much right to live as anybody else. But when it comes to mixin' blood with 'em, that's goin' too far."

-- Big Dan Halliday (Ward Bond), The Halliday Brand (Joseph H. Lewis, 1957)

The Halliday Brand (or, The Autumn of the Patriarch--or, Equinox Cactus). A bookended-flashback narrative reveals a series of racially motivated, neither completely accidental nor completely intentional deaths at the hands of the Halliday family, namely the patriarch, Dan, who in the past brokered peace with "the Injuns" and the town so that both could settle & prosper. (How big of him!) The great Ward Bond, who was only two years Joseph Cotten's senior, plays Cotten's father; Dan & Daniel; dueling epochs and dueling values.

The film contains very crude psychologizing and social analysis. Jivaro, the "half-breed," speaks in spare, clear sentences about fear and love in our hearts (much like his sister)--a bit of a caricature of a man whose mother was indigenous, and who therefore is necessarily (according to white liberal diktat) spiritual, brave, austere, peaceful, and, strangely, with English both slightly accented and halting. Nevermind the white father or the presumably heavily white environment and socialization these children grew up with: they've got the role of Other to fulfill. (By the way, there are two absent mothers in the film, one for each family!) In fact the depictions of the few characters of pure or mixed Native American blood are actually pretty wince-inducing (of the well-meaning variety). The whole thematic subtext of the film is a periphery to the civil rights wave of the period in America: dramatization of the awareness of and struggle over miscegenation, a plea for its tolerance on the grounds of true love and racial harmony.

I believe this film has a decent reputation, though I think (as far as JHL Westerns go), I like both Terror in a Texas Town and 7th Cavalry slightly more. I once had an idea as to how to differentiate the use of color in a Randolph Scott Western directed by Andre De Toth and one by Joseph H. Lewis. In Lewis' films, there's a tendency to focus on objects: a tree or tree stump, a trinket, a noose, something tangible and contained by the image: there's symbolic or iconic power expressed in these objects. Color is expressed through this method: a red object, or a motif of green objects. Andre De Toth, meanwhile, focuses less intently upon the symbolism of an object (unless it's momentary and more utilitarian: like the bottle rolled down the bar in Day of the Outlaw: truly explosive). De Toth is concerned with color, light/shadow, and with visual composition in general, more in terms of modernist painting--broad swaths of diagonals, fields of colors swirling for immediate graphic, perceptual, emotional effects, rather than cerebral, symbolic ones. None of this is to suggest that De Toth's cinema is non-intellectual, or that Lewis lacks emotional content; I'm only talking about the ways in which I think the two solve problems of technique and give form to their ideas.


Jaime said...

I think I wrote to you this a few years ago when I saw it; since then I've revisited GUN CRAZY (which I think is a masterpiece). Agree that TERROR is a better film. Memory of CAVALRY is dim, except for the climactic scene.

I have a very vivid memory of Lewis's wandering camera in HALLIDAY. The film seemed to suffer from very high blood pressure - a confrontation between Cotten and Bond seemed very punishing for the latter and I felt a wave of revulsion, knowing the actor would be dead of a heart attack within three years.

Jaime said...

Uh, "wrote to you ABOUT this"...

My comment makes it sound like I didn't like the film, but I did, quite a bit.