(1946) In one of his earliest pictures, a classic western involving three love triangles - directed by King Vidor, screenplay and produced by David O. Selznick, adapted by Oliver H.P. Garrett from a novel by Niven Busch - Gregory Peck portrays Lewt McCanles, a wild, reckless bad guy.
The favored, undisciplined younger son of Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore), crippled emperor of Spanish Bit, an enormous cattle ranch in western Texas, competes against his older, well-mannered brother Jesse (Joseph Cotton), an ethical lawyer, respectful of distinctions between right and wrong (whom Lewt calls "Judge"), for the sultry Pearl Chavez (Jennifer Jones). Jennifer Jones has the appearance of alluring young women often depicted as illustrations in men's western pulp-fiction magazines of the '40s and '50s.
Pearl, a wild flower, quick to bloom and die, comes to the McCanles home after her father, Scott Chavez (Herbert Marshall), a Creole, sends her to live with her cousin, Mrs Laura Belle McCanles, before being hanged for killing his wife, a Red Indian, and her lover. The old patriarch McCanles, a racist reactionary in a wheelchair, calls Pearl a "half-breed squaw"; he holds an jealous grudge against her father for having held Laura Belle's youthful affection.
In Freudian terms, Lewt is all id, Pearl is the conflicted ego, while Jesse represents the superego in this tragedy of jealousies. Lewt takes after his father, in whose eyes he can do no wrong, not even the murder of the new strawboss, Sam Pierce (Charles Bickford), the night before Sam was to wed Pearl. Initially attracted to Jesse's mild-tempered goodness, Pearl eventually can't resist Lewt's animal magnetism and machismo, which she admires when he breaks a stallion: "You sure got nerve."
The Senator banishes Jesse from Spanish Bit - "Leave me be, you Judas" - when the lawyer takes the side of the railroad against his possessive father, who doesn't want the immigrants and other outsiders having easy access into his territory.
In the first of my two favorite scenes in the film, as an outlaw with a $2000 reward on his head, Lewt brashly returns to the ranch - riding thirty miles for a kiss, he tells Pearl, his "pretty little tamale," his "tiger cat," whom he claims carries his brand - telling her he's off for Mexico but will be back on occasions to see her. When she begs to leave with him, grabbing onto his leg as he drags her across the floor on his way to the door, he finally kicks at her: "Ah, shut up!" And in the end she claws and crawls up Squaw's Head Rock to reach Lewt, whom she both loves and loathes.
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