Devil's Doorway (Anthony Mann / U.S., 1950)

The Anthony Mann hero in transition, into the outdoors yet still encircled by shadows: "That’s a big horse you’re riding. It’s a long fall from it." The war never ends for the outsider, so realizes the Shoshone officer (Robert Taylor) who rides back to his Wyoming home with a Gettysburg Medal of Honor and a "saddlebag full of dreams." The saloon that once welcomed him hardens into a lattice of inhospitable diagonals, a detail from My Darling Clementine ("No liquor for Indians") gives way to a scuffle so intense that the combatants' grimaces and fists appear to scratch at the edges of the screen. When his own land is taken from him, he sees justice split between the wheezing attorney (Louis Calhern) leading the homesteaders and the small-time counselor (Paula Raymond) who's nearly as powerless as her bewildered client. "Under the law, you are not cast as an American citizen." "What am I?" "A ward of the government." Pride shades into anger in the face of prejudice, the cracked quill of an aborted petition dissolves to the new battleground—a panning view of the once-fertile meadow turned into a gnarled, dusty slope. Mann in his first western is a good two decades ahead of the game, Ride the High Country is foretold in the protagonist's grave farewell to the landscape and Little Big Man remembers the Cavalry's climactic ride to the rescue on the wrong side. (In the middle of the shootout, the camera ventures inside a ruined cabin suffused with John Alton's side lighting and isolates Taylor's eminent profile in silhouette, a hushed and harrowed composition.) The tangible weight of systemic oppression, the struggle against nullification, not just a criticism but a call to arms. Daves in Broken Arrow lights a candle, Aldrich in Apache takes up the flamethrower. With Marshall Thompson, James Mitchell, Edgar Buchanan, Rhys Williams, Spring Byington, and Chief John Big Tree. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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