Proud Rebel, The (1958): Alan Ladd in Michael Curtiz’s Technicolor Western, Co-Starring Olivia de Havilland and Real-Life Son

One of Alan Ladd’s best films in the 1950s, The Proud Rebel is a sentimental melodrama of a single (widowed) father, a Confederate vet, and his young mute son (played by Ladd’s real-life child), struggling to make a new life among hostile neighbors in the Midwest.

Despite the implications of the title, the main character in “The Proud Rebel” does not dwell much on his Southern past, but finds his life complicated by sectional prejudice.

Shot in Technicolor, the Western is directed by the prolific Michael Curtiz, from a screenplay by Joseph Petracca and Lillie Hayward, based on a 1947 story by James Edward Grant.

A former Confederate soldier, John Chandler (Ladd) arrives in a small Illinois town with his mute son David (David Ladd) to see Dr. Enos Davis (Cecil Kellaway), who recommends a doctor in Minnesota. The boy was struck mute after witnessing his mother’s death in a fire, and hasn’t spoken a word since.

A flock of sheep is blocking their path, and the family’s expertly trained dog, Lance, who is a major character in the story, clears the way. The sheep belong to rancher Harry Burleigh (Dean Jagger) and his sons, Jeb (Harry Dean Stanton) and Tom (Tom Pittman), who try to steal the dog.

John fights them while a kind stranger, Linnett Moore (Olivia de Havilland), holds the child. Harry knocks out John, pours whiskey on him, but then lies to the sheriff about being attacked by a drunk.

Chandler must pay $30 or serve 30 days in jail, and Linnett offers to cover the fine, if he helps her in the farm. The reluctant Chandler agrees when he discovers that Linnett is under pressure by the Burleighs to sell her land, which is blocking the passage of his sheep to pasture and the railroad. Gradually, John and Linnett grow closer to each other, which delights the boy, whose only company is the dog.

When the boy is taunted and beaten by local children, John decides to sell the dog in order to finance his son’s medical bill. He asks Linnett to accompany the boy while he rebuilds the barn, burned down by the Burleighs.

The operation doesn’t work, and in the film’s most emotional scene, David is devastated to find out that the dog is gone. John goes back to the Burleighs onoy to realize that the dog mistreated by them.

Harry gives the dog back, but his son Jeb is about to shoot Chandler as a thief. It’s the boy who ultimately saves his father’s life.

The scene in which Chandler returns to the farm is seen in long shot from Linnett’s point of viw, and the way Olivia de Havilland runs toward them is filmed in the same way as the famous scene in Gone With the Wind, when Leslie Howard returns from the War and De Havilland runs towards him.

In the predictable happy ending, a new family if formed, a quintet consisting of Chandler, his son (now able to speak), Linnett, Chandler’s horse, and the boy’s dog.


Alan Ladd as John Chandler

Olivia de Havilland as Linnett Moore

Dean Jagger as Harry Burleigh

David Ladd as David Chandler

Cecil Kellaway as Dr. Enos Davis

Harry Dean Stanton as Jeb Burleigh (credited as Dean Stanton)

Tom Pittman as Tom Burleigh