Nick Lieberman reviews Raoul Walsh’s Pursued, which screens Monday, October 1st at NYFF as part of the “Men of Cinema: Pierre Rissient and the Cinema Mac Mahon” sidebar.

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The fun of watching Raoul Walsh’s Pursued is similar to the pleasure of eating at an Asian Fusion restaurant: your favorite elements from disparate cuisines combined in an ideal blend of flavor and concept. A good Fusion dish, like Pursued, will engage both your tongue and your brain. Here, the mind is happy noticing genre tropes, while the eyes are treated to a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Pursued is an effective mashup of the Noir and the Western, placing a brutal, epic, escape story in the red rock canyons of New Mexico.

Robert Mitchum plays Jeb Rand, a quiet man with a mysterious, distant past that he can hardly remember. The audience is quickly told the specifics even as Rand struggles to grasp them: his family was massacred when he was a child by the men of a rival family. The film largely consists of Rand avoiding being killed by these men who seek to finish the job they started. The pervading sense of dread and mystery isn’t about the revelation of the truth, but more about impatiently waiting for Mitchum’s character to realize what is happening to him. His survival is put into question at every turn, as he tries to outpace a life he didn’t choose. The entire film is told in flashback as Rand waits for a final faceoff with his love, Thor (Teresa Wright).

The film moves episodically, never seeming to drag, and the flashback voiceover creates a place for interesting and attractive montages throughout. The moments of high melodrama at times border on absurd, but the repeated visions of death keep sentimentality far from this, or any other Walsh film. The Max Steiner score is totally overwhelming during the majority of the film, with such ridiculous flourishes as a mournful Here Comes the Bride en route to a potentially murderous honeymoon suite. However, the use of the gunfighter ballad, “Streets of Laredo,” was a nice touch (if you aren’t familiar with the Marty Robbins version, it comes highly recommended). Master cinematographer James Wong Howe keeps the shadows long and dark, especially in scenes of high danger and tension.

Robert Mitchum really shows himself to be the prototype for stars such as Marlon Brando and James Dean all the way through to Ryan Gosling: Handsome, aloof, strong, violent, complicated, earnest, a hero with a secret. There is one scene that is particularly devastating both in the context of the film and also as a display of persona. It is the scene in which his replacement mother and his former bride-to-be tell him they never want to speak to him again. He holds his hat, and with eyelids still at half-mast, he takes it. He just stands there and takes it, running the hat through his hands. Walsh even cuts to a close-up when he lowers his eyes. He knows there’s nothing he could have done. As they ride away, he puts his hat on, leans, with his energy already pointed away from the situation and onward, he stumbles backwards, nodding his head, possibly even with a half-smirk. Fade to black.