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T.H.
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« on: September 23, 2008, 09:55:37 PM »

This is one of the most beautifully filmed B&W westerns I've seen.

Devil's Doorway isn't quite a masterpiece, it stars Robert Taylor as an Indian (Anthony Quinn would have been perfect for the role), but it's as good as a western starring Robert Taylor as an Indian can be. Louis Calhern is his usual brilliant self and Paula Raymond plays a damsel lawyer with some heart.

This is the first film that I've seen that portrays Native Americans in a positive light but does so in an honest manner. It never enters into borderline liberal propaganda territory like Little Big Man or anything. It's a land battle over 10 square miles that Taylor's character claims his after returning from service in the Civil war. Calhern promises sheep herders the use of the land and Raymond does her best to mediate. I don't want to give away anything more, this is a must see for those who haven't seen it.The cinematography is absolutely beautiful.

I also watched another Mann movie, The Tall Target,  starring Dick Powell, which was terrific and masterfully shot.

« Last Edit: May 26, 2016, 11:25:19 AM by T.H. » Logged


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« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2008, 01:18:53 AM »

I caught this last night on TCM at random, just happened to throw on the channel to hear Bobby O. singing this film's praises and boy was he on the mark. This is one of the most beautifully filmed B&W westerns I've seen.

Anthony Mann's westerns, like Laramie, Man of the West and The Naked Spur,  for instance, have never really impressed me that much. The seemed a bit lazy and the mediocre score would play unmercifully thoughout the entire picture, but my opinion of Mann has heightened considerably. Devil's Doorway isn't quite a masterpiece, it stars Robert Taylor as an Indian (Anthony Quinn would have been perfect for the role), but it's as good as a western starring Robert Taylor as an Indian can be. Louis Calhern is his usual brilliant self and Paula Raymond plays a damsel lawyer with some heart.

This is the first film that I've seen that portrays Native Americans in a positive light but does so in an honest manner. It never enters into borderline liberal propaganda like Little Big Man or anything. It's a land battle over 10 square miles that Taylor's character claims his after returning from service in the Civil war. Calhern promises sheep herders the use of the land and Raymond does her best to mediate. I don't want to give away anything more, this is a must see for those who haven't seen it.

This may be the best directed western pre Leone-Peckinpah that I've seen, at  the very least, on the short list. I haven't seen as many westerns as DJ, titoli, and of course Joe, but I have seen my fair share. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful, and Mann pours his heart into every shot.

I have put off watching The Furies for quite some time but after DD, I am going to wacth it as soon as humanly possible. I also watched another Mann movie, The Tall Target,  starring Dick Powell, which was terrific and masterfully shot.

Ahhh, I like Anthony Mann's work Tuco, especially MAN FROM LARAMIE.

However, I have yet to see DEVIL'S DOORWAY but I plan on it.

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« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2010, 03:11:29 PM »

This is on TCM tonight at 8, if anyone's interested.

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« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2010, 09:43:30 PM »

Extended thoughts:

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An early effort by Anthony Mann, Devil's Doorway (1950) is a surprisingly strong and resentful revisionist Western. Released the same year as Delmer Daves's Broken Arrow, it's a far more caustic look at prejudice against Native Americans. Daves humanized Natives but expressed hope at reconciliation; Mann condemns this idealism as naive.

Lance Poole (Robert Taylor) is a Shoshone Indian living in Montana Territory. He returns from the Civil War as a decorated hero, and wants nothing more than to live in peace with his white neighbors. Unfortunately, an influx of sheep herders moves into the region, egged on by racist lawyer Coolan (Louis Calhern), and begin squatting on Poole's land. Poole tries every trick in the book to protect his land, enlisting a young woman lawyer (Paula Raymond) to defend him, but the situation inevitably explodes into violence, with tragic results for everyone involved.

Devil's Doorway is an angry film, a stark contrast to the conciliatory, conventionally-liberal Broken Arrow. Mann and writer Guy Trosper place the blame for the film's tragic events squarely on white settlers. Lance bends over backwards to accomodate white laws, but in a system which views him as having "the rights of a dog," he can get nowhere. The idealism gained in fighting alongside white men to liberate blacks from slavery is quickly dashed by bitter reality. Those sticking up for Lance are deemed as "Indian lovers" (Orrie, the bar tender); his best friend, Zeke (Edgar Buchannan), is made Marshal and forced to try and evict him. The bleakness carries through to the end, though the obvious "message" at the very end sounds like a leaden clunk.

The film is remarkably left-wing for 1950, when HUAC was on the prowl and the conservative Wayne-Ford view of the West still predominated. It echoes Mann's politically-charged noir Border Incident (1949), a saga about the plight of Mexican immigrants, and The Furies (1950), where Mexican squatters are ruthlessly lynched. Perhaps his teaming with arch-conservative Jimmy Stewart tampered his politics, but Mann's anger seemed to cool over time, perhaps channelling into the oft-sadistic violence of later efforts. Here, however, it's the dominating principle.

The movie is unconventional in other ways, too. It admirably avoids cliches: the putative romance between Lance and lawyer Orrie is muted, a child character (Henry Marco) avoids easy tragedy. Except for the final scene, Mann keeps from making noble speeches or stacking the deck, allowing the ugliness of the situation to speak for itself. It's a decidedly different experience from other Westerns.

Working with ace photographer John Alton, Mann helms a striking production, with lots of beautiful location work. The use of deep-focus is extraordinary, particularly the bar scenes, where Lance is framed by Coolan and other baddies, and creative shadow and lighting shows Lance's inner conflict and predicament. The action scenes are handled with aplomb, particularly the battle with dynamite thrown at sheep farmers. The fine score is penned by Daniele Amfitheatrof, who would infamously compose the beeping doorbells of Major Dundee.

Robert Taylor is fine, if a bit stiff, as the protagonist. Louis Calhern (Notorious) gives an excellent turn as the slimey Coolan, a truly digusting villain. Paula Raymond gives a storng performance. Edgar Buchanan (Ride the High Country) stands out as the spineless Marshal.

Devil's Doorway is a remarkable film, especially for its time and place. Its angry view of Manifest Destiny has been often echoed, but rarely if ever bettered.

http://nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.com/2010/05/devils-doorway.html

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« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2010, 04:01:08 AM »

I saw it a while back, I believe in Rate the Last Film thread, its remarkably similar to what I caught of The Vanishing American (1925) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0016480/ just recently.  But that one had a tacky love story/Christian conversion inserted.

From Imdb:

Thought-Provoking, Resourceful, & Detailed - An Excellent Movie, 9 February 2005
Author: Snow Leopard from Ohio

This excellent movie far transcends its own genre, with a resourceful and detailed production that makes for a worthy treatment of some thought-provoking themes. Adapted from the Zane Grey novel, it easily does justice to the interesting story, but it is much more than just a good melodrama. Ambitious in its scale, in its time-span, and in its themes, it puts the main story into a context that is as interesting to watch as it is challenging to many of the common conceptions about the history of the American West.

The main story features Richard Dix as a Native American on a reservation, who must contend with a wide range of persons from the 'white' races. Dix succeeds in making his character interesting, believable, and sympathetic. In particular, he does well with portraying the inner torment and longings of a perceptive and capable man who is forced by his environment to keep a lot of things inside.

The 'white' characters work well, and they are well-chosen so as to avoid a simplistic portrayal of those who went west. Noah Beery plays the villainous Booker effectively, making his ill intentions clear even when his character is at his most charming, yet at the same making it believable that such a reprehensible character could so often gain the upper hand. Lois Wilson is rather meek, but she works well with Dix in the relationship that is at the center of the story.

All of that would be good enough (and it doesn't even mention the beautiful scenery and photography in Monument Valley), but what makes the movie even better is that it is set in a broader context, which places the lengthy, heart-rending clash of cultures in the American West into a sweeping, far more comprehensive picture of the unending struggle of human cultures and societies as they rise and fall through the centuries. It balances a number of perspectives, and believably shows how complex the interplay between different cultures can be.

The lengthy prologue, often detailed and interesting in itself, paints a convincing and often harrowing picture of the nature of human societies in their struggles and rivalries through the ages. It adds a depth rarely seen to the eventual conflicts between the expanding USA and the Native American nations, and even if it were made today, it would be a bold statement that challenges stereotypes of all kinds. True indeed is the movie's theme that human cultures come and go, and that those standing strong today will someday pass away, with only the earth itself remaining always.

This movie surely deserves to be much better-known, for its top quality production of some often challenging material, its interesting story, and its themes that are worthy of careful and honest consideration. If it were filmed today, some of the details would probably be handled differently, but that is to a large degree a matter of style or fashion. The specific details are far less important than the movie's impressive depth and quality.

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« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2010, 07:09:20 AM »

Wow. Great review, Grogs.  Afro

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« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2010, 10:55:35 AM »

I'm semi-embarrassed by my gushing review, it's just the movie (John Alton) completely knocked me on my ass.

Good review groggs. If you can track down THE TALL TARGET, that's very much worth seeing. If you like DD and BI, you should enjoy that one as well.

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« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2013, 04:20:27 PM »

Savant sez:

http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s4083door.html

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« Reply #8 on: June 07, 2013, 12:42:52 PM »

just aw this on TCM. 6/10

Groggy, I have to disagree with something in your review, where you talk about the conservative Ford/Wayne view of the West, presumably where you mean that the Indians are portrayed negatively. That's a common stereotype but not at all accurate IMO. Look at films like FORT APACHE and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, those are Ford/Wayne movies that came before DEVIL'S DOORWAY in which the Indians weren't portrayed badly.


SPOILER ALERT

I hated the preachy last line where the girl says (paraphrasing) " we should never forget." The previous line, where Taylor says "We're all gone," and drops dead, would have been a much better way to end the film. So many films seem to have one line too many. [The worst sinner in that regard is WHITE HEAT, where, instead of ending with Cagney's "Made it Ma, top of the world," we get the preachy line with Edmund O'Brien saying (paraphrasing) "Cody Jarett, mad eit to top of the world before it blew up in his face." Of course that's a preachy warning to us about nuclear holocaust, but it's my least favorite line in movie history].

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« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2017, 04:38:26 PM »

Some superb reviews and comments for what s a superb film! I'll just add my own review for further support.


The law says an Indian ain't got no more rights than a dog.

Devil's Doorway is directed by Anthony Mann. It stars Robert Taylor as Lance Poole, a Shoshone Indian who returns home to Medicine-Bow from the American Civil War after a three year stint, and a veteran of three major conflicts. Awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor he rightfully expects to be able to retire to a peaceful life back on the family land. However, all his hopes and dreams are shattered by bigotry and greed as new laws are ushered in to deprive the Native Indians land rights.

Biting and cutting, Devil's Doorway is a Civil Rights Western that, boldly for its time, looks at the injustices done to Native Americans. Very much grim in texture, it's no surprise to see Anthony Mann at the helm for this material. Mann of course would go on to become a Western genre darling for his run of "Adult Westerns" he would do with James Stewart. Prior to this Mann had showed himself to have a keen eye for tough pieces with dark themes in a few well regarded film noir movies. So this was right up his street, in fact a glance at his output shows him to be something of a master when it comes to showing minority groups sympathetically. MGM were nervous tho, unsure as if taking the Western in this direction was the way to go, they pulled it from release in 1949. But after the impact that Delmer Daves' similar themed Broken Arrow made the following year, they ushered it out and the film promptly got lost amongst the plaudits for the James Stewart starrer. That's a shame because this is fit to sit alongside the best work Mann has done.

Filmed in black & white, the film has beautiful landscapes that belie the bleak road the movie ultimately turns down. Shot on location at Aspen and Grand Junction in Colorado (the talented John Alton on cinematography), the film also manages to rise above its obvious eyebrow raising piece of casting. Robert Taylor always had his critics, hell I'm sometimes one of them, but here as he is cast against type as a Shoshone Indian, he gives the character conviction and a stoic nobility that really makes it work. Some of his scenes with the beautiful Paula Raymond (playing his lawyer Orrie Masters) are a lesson in maximum impact garnered from emotional restraint. You will be aware of the fluctuating skin pigmentation he has throughout the movie, but honestly look into his eyes and feel the confliction and loyalty and you really will not care.

Scripted by Guy Trosper (Birdman of Alcatraz), the screenplay is unflinching in showing how badly the Native Americans were treated. Throw that in with Alton's other gift, that of the dusty barren land shot, and you got a very film noir feel to the movie. Something which not only is unique, but something that also showed a shift in the Hollywood Oater. We now get brains to match the action and aesthetics of the Western movie. Not that this is found wanting for action, Mann doesn't short change here either, with a dynamite led offensive purely adrenaline pumping.

A fine fine movie, an important movie in fact. One that is in desperate need of more exposure. Still awaiting a widespread home format disc release, I quote Orrie Masters from the movie..."It would be too bad if we ever forget".... that applies to both the theme of the piece and the actual movie itself. 9/10

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