Combustible Celluloid
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With: Joseph Cotten, Viveca Lindfors, Betsy Blair, Ward Bond, Bill Williams, Jay C. Flippen, Christopher Dark, Jeanette Nolan, Peter Ortiz, Robin Short, Glenn Strange, Jay Lawrence, John Dierkes, George Lynn, I. Stanford Jolley
Written by: George W. George, George F. Slavin
Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 79
Date: 01/01/1957

The Halliday Brand (1957)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Fathers and Sons

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Joseph H. Lewis was, more often than not, a "B" movie maker. But his intelligence, skill, and instinct were quite above average. Just as he made Gun Crazy (1949) into a psychosexual masterpiece, he likewise makes The Halliday Brand into something more than a workaday Western. Here there are no good guys or bad guys, just a horrible, quasi-Oedipal, lifelong feud between a hard-headed father and a forward-thinking son.

Joseph Cotten stars as the son, Daniel Halliday, who happily lives with his father, sheriff "Big Dan" (Ward Bond) on their huge ranch. He also lives with his brother Clay (Bill Williams) and his sister Martha (Betsy Blair). The trouble starts when Martha falls secretly in love with a half-breed ranch hand, Jivaro (Christopher Dark). Big Dan discovers the affair and shoots Jivaro. Daniel is nonplussed and rides to Jivaro's family to break the news. Big Dan follows and winds up shooting Jivaro's father (Jay C. Flippen) as well. Meanwhile, Daniel starts to fall in love with Jivaro's sister Aleta (Viveca Lindfors), but decides that justice is more important, and he disappears, vowing a crusade against his father.

The fight quickly turns brutal and single-minded. Big Dan forms a posse to track Daniel, but it's clear that the fight is personal and eventually the posse gives up. (Big Dan responds with a "if you're not with me, you're against me.") Meanwhile, Daniel burns down a chunk of his father's ranch and threatens the townspeople; they're next if Big Dan doesn't turn in his badge. It comes down to a painful one-on-one fight. Even more tragic is that the story is told in flashback as an aged, dying Big Dan calls for his eldest son and, just before visiting his father's deathbed, Daniel revisits their entire history. It adds a long shadow to the events in the film.

Lewis, perhaps purposely, or perhaps accidentally, takes some cues from the previous year's The Searchers, portraying the hateful obsessions of men, and using a unique visual style, dark lines and shadows, to separate them from ordinary folks. In one shot, Ward Bond is even framed in a dark doorway, just like the famous shot of John Wayne in Ford's celebrated film. This is a dark, deeply psychological film, not dependent on cheap action or shoot-em-ups. It's a rather amazing achievement, and too long left out of a place of prominence. MGM has released it on DVD -- at last -- as part of their MOD series.

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