T. it.: Notte senza fine. Scen.: Niven Busch. F.: James Wong Howe. Mo.: Christian Nyby. Scgf.: Ted Smith. Mu.: Max Steiner. Su.: Francis J. Scheid. Int.: Teresa Wright (Thor Callum), Robert Mitchum (Jeb Rand), Judith Anderson (Medora Callum), Dean Jagger (Grant Callum), Alan Hale (Jake Dingle), John Rodney (Adam Callum), Harry Carey Jr. (Prentice), Clifton Young (il sergente), Ernest Severn (Jeb a undici anni), Charles Bates (Adam a undici anni), Peggy Miller (Thor a dieci anni). Prod.: United States Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures. Pri. pro.: 2 marzo 1947 35mm. D.: 101’. Bn.
Raoul Walsh directed Pursued at the height of his Warner years. It was his ‘golden’ period, in which his creative health resulted in boldness. The film has the rough surfaces of a western, the enigmatic structure of a noir, the prodigious echoes of a tragedy: it mixes genres and techniques, transfiguring all of them in a dark flash of light. It was written by the screenwriter Niven Busch, who had previously written Duel in the Sun (also featuring the figure of the orphan, the substitute family, the fraternal rivalry, and the wildest horse rides). Like other masterpieces of the decade (after Double Indemnity and before Sunset Boulevard), it is built around a flashback structure. While he awaits the arrival of his executioners, the broad-shouldered, soul-shattered Robert Mitchum traces the steps of his own destiny, marked by dim events that he barely remembers. Why is he doing it? His interlocutor already knows the story, and cannot help shine any light on the darkness engulfing him. This could be considered the most unjustified flashback, if it were not for the fact that it really serves as a near-death soliloquy, a summoning of his own ghosts now that the long day’s journey into night is over, and the last knot is about to be untied – just before the rope lowers around his neck.
Psychoanalysis is often called into question, with good reason, when discussing what happens in Pursued. Even a simplistic analysis provides several familiar themes: a trauma in childhood, repression, the return of the repressed memory, the conquering of identity. There is a mythological mother figure that is both illness and cure, the sacred alter of guilt and the gunshot that restores life. There is the erotic and troubling figure of the sister-bride. There is no trace, however, of the mechanical and explanatory process that is so prevalent in the psycho-films of the Forties, even in the good ones (Pursued is no Spellbound). The plot is driven by such a concrete and cosmic force that the best words to describe it come from Lourcelles: “A universe that begins in the depths of a man’s heart and then gets lost somewhere in the infinite skies”. In the shots by Walsh and James Wong Howe, those skies over New Mexico – whether by night or in blinding daylight, glimpsed from between rocky cliffs – are nothing less than breathtaking.
In his wildest, most derailed movie, Walsh delves into a classic American parable: Jeb Rand/Robert Mitchum is merely searching for his place in the world. Outside of a family that is not his own and next to a woman he calls his own. Was his long voyage (inward and outward) the only way to kill his monsters and dispel the shadow of incest that has ever cursed the lovers? “Take your wife home, Jeb”. Pursued is a prismatic mystery of a movie, and, from whichever angle you look at it, it is one of the most beautiful ever made.