Broken Lance (1954): Dmytryk’s Oscar-Winning Western, Starring Tracy, Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark

In this taut, compelling Western, skillfully directed by Edward Dmytryk, Spencer Tracy plays Matt Devereaux, a vet ranch owner who has raised his sons to carry on his fierce, hard-working spirit.

But in the process, the detached man has neglected to give them any affection or show any emotion.

Joe (Robert Wagner), Matt’s son by Native American wife Seora (Katy Jurado), is mal treated by his half-brothers, Ben (Richard Widmark), Mike (Hugh O’Brian), and Danny (Earl Holliman) due to his mixed origins; they are all Caucasian products of Matt’s first wife. Joe loves his father and would do nearly anything for him, but his siblings resent Matt’s emotional distance. When Matt discovers a copper mine that’s polluting a stream where he waters his cattle, he leads a raid on the mine that causes the police to visit the ranch.

To spare his father the agony and humiliation, Joe claims responsibility and goes to prison. Upon release, he discovers that his father had suffered a fatal stroke, a result of his brother’s rebellion against him. Seora tries to persuade Joe not to seek revenge, but to no avail.

At the time of its release, some critics charged that Yodan’s text was not only somber but pretentious, trying to pass as a Shakespearan tragedy in the mold of “King Lear,” with sons instead of daughters.

Screenwriter Philip Yordan won the Oscar for Motion Picture Story, and Katy Jurado, who two years earlier excelled as Gary Cooper’s mistress in “High Noon,” received a Best Supporting Actress nomination.


Oscar Nominations: 2

Supporting Actress: Katy Jurado

Motion Picture Story: Philip Yordan

Oscar Awards: 1

Motion Picture Story

Oscar Context

This particular Oscar for Yordan raised eyebrows as the movie was considered to be a loose remake of the 1949 feature, “House of Strangers.” Yordan claimed that he adapted to the screen the novel by Jerome Weidman, upon which “House of Strangers was based, but Joseph l. Mankiewicz disputed that.

The winner of the Supporting Actress Oscar was Eva Marie Saint in “On the Waterfront,” which swept all the major 1954 Academy Awards.