15 December 2015 | Spikeopath
My name's Merrick. I'm United States Marshal here.
Along the Great Divide is directed by Raoul Walsh and written by Walter Doniger and Lewis Meltzer. It stars Kirk Douglas, Virginia Mayo, John Agar, Walter Brennan, Ray Teal, James Anderson and Morris Ankrum. Music is by David Buttolph and cinematography by Sidney Hickox.
U.S. Marshall Len Merrick (Douglas) and two deputies rescue suspected murderer Tim Keith (Brennan) from a lynch mob led by a local cattle baron who is convinced that Keith killed his son. The lawmen embark on a hazardous journey across the rugged terrains, determined to get Keith to Santa Loma for a fair trial...
Kirk Douglas' first Western is something of an undervalued treat. It was a film he didn't enjoy making, where working out in the desert with Raoul Walsh proved something of a cross to bear. Yet the director got a very good turn out of Douglas, allowing the actor to put down a marker in the genre that would serve him well throughout his career.
It sits very much in the psychological Western realm, a fact that some critics of the time failed to grasp - since complaints about not being a standard Oater were floated about! It really shouldn't have surprised anyone given that Douglas had already made a handful of superb film noir pictures, he was surely cast for this pic on the strength of his noir characters.
There's big father issues abound in the whole film, the various strands keeping the narrative edgy. Merrick is a damaged man, and his companions that make up the group will all test his metal to the max. Not just for father issues, and a lack of water, but also via the presence of Keith's daughter, Ann (Mayo), who mercifully isn't just a token female dressage character (she's feisty with believable emotional outpourings). It's a fraught journey for many reasons and Walsh, notwithstanding cheesing Douglas off, keeps it deftly wound tight.
The surroundings offer more troublesome discord to envelope the characters. Shot in gorgeous black and white by Hickox, the Alabama Hills and Mojave Desert locales provide barren landscapes that are juxtaposed with threatening looking rock formations. This often at times feels like an Anthony Mann/James Stewart landscape, which is high praise indeed. While the cast can't be faulted as they bring the drama to life, benefiting from the fine research of writers Doniger and Meltzer.
Undeniably the film's major drawback is the lack of whodunit worth. The pic unfortunately plays its hand far too early in this respect, meaning we know who the killer is. This could have lessened the excitement at story end, damagingly so, but we are never sure if we are going to be party to an Ox-Bow Incident or otherwise. This is well worth seeking out for fans of psychological Westerns, the many Oedipal themes and the scorching landscapes ensure it's a tasty little number. 8/10