Track of the Cat (1954): William Wellman’s Psychological Western, Starring Robert Mitchum, Teresa Wright, and Beulah Bondi

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William A. Wellman directed Track of the Cat a Warnercolor Western, starring Robert Mitchum with Teresa Wright.

Track of the Cat
Track of the Cat (1954) movie poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

The film is based on Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s 1949 adventure novel of the same name.

This was Wellman’s second adaptation of a Clark novel, the first was the 1940 Oscar nominated, The Ox-Bow Incident, starring Henry Fonda.

Track of the Cat was produced by John Wayne and Robert Fellows for their company, Batjac.

The squabbling Bridges family spends harsh winter on their remote ranch in northern California.

Mitchum plays the crude and quarrelsome middle brother Curt, who bullies his noble, unselfish eldest brother Arthur (William Hopper), while youngest brother Harold (Tab Hunter) endures Curt’s abuse in silence.

Their mother (Beulah Bondi) is a bigoted religious zealot, and their father (Philip Tonge) a loquacious, self-pitying drunk.

Then there’s the bitter old maid sister Grace (Teresa Wright), temporarily gladdened by the arrival of Harold’s fiancé, the spirited Gwen (Diana Lynn).

Their ancient Native American hired hand Joe Sam (Carl Switzer) alerts the family to a prowling panther, who wiped out his family years back. But his superstitious dread of the panther irritates the domineering Curt.

Curt and Arthur decide to split up in order to track the panther while the family tensely awaits their return.

Harold tries to avoid conflict with his parents while Gwen  encourages him to assert his claim to equal share of the ranch. Although Grace tries to support her youngest brother and his fiancé, Ma Bridges spews hateful suspicion at Gwen, but she ignores the family’s histrionics Thisfor Harold’s sake.

In the end, the major conflicts have been resolved, but at a price of tragedy and loss. The characters hope that their ordeal will create a happier future.

This ambitiously brooding Western revolves around a matriarch-dominated family, with the serious, and often pretentious, overtones of a Greek tragedy, but it is overwrought and lacks psychological depth. The overly literate script by A.I. Bezzerides has the tone of  Indian folklore.

The outdoor scenes were shot on Mount Rainier, Washington. Wellman intended to shoot a black & white movie in color, holding that if a movie were shot in monochromatic shades, with stark blacks and whites and mostly subdued colors that were almost shades of grey, he could use bright colors sparingly for intense dramatic effect. William Clothier’s photography was designed to highlight black and white and downplay colors, so that key elements like blue matches, the fire, and Mitchum’s red coat stand out.

Robert Mitchum as Curt Bridges
Teresa Wright as Grace Bridges
Diana Lynn as Gwen Williams
Tab Hunter as Harold Bridges
Beulah Bondi as Ma Bridges
Philip Tonge as Pa Bridges
William Hopper as Arthur Bridges
Carl Switzer as Joe Sam


Directed by William A. Wellman
Screenplay by A. I. Bezzerides, based on the novel Track of the Cat by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Produced by Robert Fellows, John Wayne
Cinematography William H. Clothier
Edited by Fred MacDowell
Music by Roy Webb

Production company: Wayne/Fellows Productions

Distributed by Warner Bros.

Release date: November 27, 1954

Running time: 102 minutes
Box office $2 million


TCM showed the movie on Oct 10, 2021.