BRANDED (director: Rudolph Maté; screenwriters: from the novel “Montana Rides” by Max Brand/Sydney Boehm/Cyril Hume; cinematographer: Charles B. Lang Jr.; editor: Doane Harrison; music: Roy Webb; cast: Alan Ladd (Choya), Mona Freeman (Ruth Lavery), Charles Bickford (Mr. Lavery), Robert Keith (T. Jefferson Leffingwell), Joseph Calleia (Rubriz), Peter Hansen (Tonio), Tom Tully (Ransom), John Berkes (Tattoo), Selena Royle (Mrs. Lavery); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mel Epstein; Paramount; 1950)
“Alan Ladd’s convincing steel-cold performance as a no-gooder who it turns out has a heart, makes this film crackle and pop.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The noted former cinematographer for such films as The Passion of Joan of Arc and Gilda, the Polish-born Rudolph Maté (“Second Chance”/”The Deep Six”/”The Siege at Red River”), directs his first Western. It’s from the novel “Montana Rides” by Max Brand and is literately written by Sydney Boehm and Cyril Hume. Alan Ladd’s convincing steel-cold performance as a no-gooder who it turns out has a heart, makes this film crackle and pop. Its brooding atmospheric presentation nicely covers up its lapses in action. The photography by Charles B. Lang Jr., in Technicolor and shot in the mountains of Arizona and Utah, is simply gorgeous. It also delivers a strong statement about identity, and is much more meaningful than most Westerns.
Choya (Alan Ladd) is a fast-draw outlaw who escapes from a Texas posse by taking a hostage. He’s a loner who has been on his own his entire life and trusts no one. When asked if he has any friends, he replies, “My guns.” Any kinfolk? “My horse.” Choya is the Spanish word for cactus – when asked why such a name, he answers, “Ever try to pick one up?”
After his escape Choya’s tracked down by an old drunk aptly named Tattoo (John Berkes) and a sleazy hombre from New Orleans named T. Jefferson Leffingwell (Robert Keith). Jefferson proposes a get-rich-quick scheme where the three can split a million dollars. Some twenty years ago, Tonio, the five year old son of cattle baron Mr. Lavery (Charles Bickford) was kidnapped and was never found despite a big reward. Jefferson knows he’s being raised by a notorious Mexican bandit named Rubriz (Joseph Calleia) across the Rio Grande, who has kept Tonio in the dark about his real father and will never give him up. The boy had a distinguishing birthmark on his shoulder. Jefferson knows what it looks like and after he gets Choya to agree, Tattoo puts the identical tattoo on Choya’s shoulder. Soon after Jefferson plugs Tattoo in his back, as the partnership now calls for a two-way split.
Choya gets hired as a ranch hand on Lavery’s ranch and quickly falls in love with Lavery’s sweet daughter Ruth (Mona Freeman). When Lavery gets into scuffle with the shirtless Choya, he notices the tattoo and becomes convinced that’s his son after questioning him and being fed the answers Jefferson rehearsed with him. But Choya respects the old man and his kind-hearted wife (Selena Royle) so much so that he changes his mind after a cattle drive and refuses to go through with the deception–which called for him to knock off Lavery and inherit the ranch. In fact, before he leaves he tells a crestfallen Ruth the truth and in secret searches for the 25-year-old Tonio (Peter Hansen), and hopes to bring him back to the Laverys as his one good deed in life.
REVIEWED ON 6/7/2007 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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