Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo (1958) di Frank O’Rourke. Scen.: Philip Yordan. F.: Leon Shamroy. M.: William Mace. Scgf.: Lyle R. Wheeler, Mark-Lee Kirk. Mus.: Lionel Newman. Int.: Gregory Peck (Jim Douglas), Joan Collins (Josefa Velarde), Stephen Boyd (Bill Zachary), Albert Salmi (Ed Taylor), Henry Silva (Lujan), Kathleen Gallant (Emma Steinmetz), Lee Van Cleef (Alfonso Parral), Barry Coe (Tom), George Voskovec (Gus Steinmetz), Herbert Rudley (sceriffo Sanchez). Prod.: Herbert B. Swope Jr. per Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.. 35mm. D.: 98’. Col.
Henry King’s austere, morally ambiguous revenge drama The Bravados treads the same stony path as Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious (1952), Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks (1961), and many of the great 1950s westerns of Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher. All these films track men whose festering psychological wounds, scabbed over by embittered stoicism, drive them to pursue a vengeance they imagine will make them whole again. Their causes may be just – often, as in The Bravados, they are seeking to avenge the rape and murder of a woman – but obsessive hatred warps them, twisting courage and integrity into neurotic monomania. No one is healed by revenge in these movies; the hero is either redeemed by abandoning his quest or gutted by achieving it. Here, King gives an extra twist to the pattern, planting early on the suspicion that the four outlaws that Jim Douglas (Gregory Peck) is hunting down may be the wrong men – and that he might not even care.
This was the fifth of King’s six films with Peck, whose usual upstanding decency shades into self-righteous inflexibility, and makes his glints of sadism all the more shocking. Douglas kills one man as he grovels on his knees, and dispatches another by stringing him upside-down from a tree. The outlaws have already been sentenced to hang when the movie begins; after escaping, they kill without hesitation, and one kidnaps and assaults a young woman. Does it matter if they are innocent of one crime, when they are guilty of so many others?
Despite the grandeur of its landscapes – the sun-beaten plains and plunging cliffs of Mexico’s Michoacán and Jalisco provinces – and the ravishing colour cinematography by Leon Shamroy, The Bravados is lean and hard, with little of the tenderness found in King’s folksy portraits of rural America. It gestures toward redemption, with hints of the director’s Catholic faith, but remains a troubling portrait of blinkered, overbearing certainty, which Peck linked to the communal scapegoating of McCarthyism.
Imogen Sara Smith