definitely one of my favorite westerns of all-time. it’s a very traditional film in a lot of ways, but westerns usually are. i think that in our pc times films like this may be shunned a bit by academics because of the way they portray certain roles, but academia is often about making mountains out of mole hills. there are several reasons that i like this one so much, but i think that the biggest is that it’s told from the perspective of a young boy. i first watched this when i was probably about joey’s age and i’ve always had an empathy with young kids in films. i remember watching untouchables for the first time with my dad when i was pretty young. there’s a famous scene wherein a baby carriage is rolling down a bunch of stairs in slow motion. i sorta freaked out because i didn’t want the baby to be hurt and i think i’ve always been like that with movies. telling the story in this way definitely gives the film a greater degree of emotional latitude and it also serves as a pretty great plot device. kids are great devices in films because they ask the questions that the audience might want to ask. explaining things to kids is a great way to get exposition out of the way or telling the audience basic things about a character that might normally remain unknown.
victor young’s score is best described as obvious; that said, it works absolutely. we know immediately when trouble is coming, we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. stevens also knows when to let the action and onscreen sound do the work. the picture’s sound is really well layered and is pretty ahead of its time in this regard. nowadays every picture has a huge sound crew working on separating all the different channels of ambient and action sounds, but that wasn’t true in 1953.
i’m not sure when cinemascope became the norm, but i know it wasn’t this early – and that’s a shame because this picture would have filled a 1.85 or 2.35:1 aspect ratio rather nicely. as is the cinematography is great. the colors are vibrant and lush, completely appropriate for the potential of the west, plus the expansive landscapes are beautiful. stevens does an equally nice job with his interiors. the bar room brawl (one of the best i’ve ever seen) is shot amazingly well and edited together masterfully. stevens puts the camera under stairs and behind posts and people to give you the feeling that you’re actually there. he switches up the distances at which the fight is taking place to give a better feel for space and movement; it’s great stuff.
this film is clearly a classic and, i think, well-deserved of its reputation.