THE IRON MISTRESS
(director: Gordan Douglas; screenwriters: James R. Webb/from a story by Paul Wellman; cinematographer: John Seitz; editor: Alan Crossland; music: Max Steiner; cast: Alan Ladd (Jim Bowie), Virginia Mayo (Judalon de Bornay), Joseph Calleia (Juan Moreno), Phyllis Kirk (Ursula de Veramendi), Alf Kjellin (Philippe de Cabanal), Douglas Dick (Narcisse de Bornay), Tony Caruso (“Bloody Jack” Sturdevant), George Voskovec (James Audubon), Ned Young (Henri Contrecourt), Sarah Selby (Mrs. Bowie), Richard Carlyle (Rezin Bowie), Dick Paxton (John Bowie), David Wolfe (James Black); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Henry Blanke; Warner Bros.; 1952)
“A leaden biopic on Jim Bowie.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A leaden biopic on Jim Bowie (Alan Ladd), the rogue adventurer inventor of the double-edged knife that bears his name. Gordan Douglas (“Saps at Sea”/”Them!”/”Kiss Tomorrow Goodby”) manages a few good action scenes in a run-of-the-mill western about the iconic American frontiersman, who only achieved that status by fighting in the Texas revolution and dying in the Alamo. It’s based on a story by Paul Wellman and is written by James R. Webb. The pic might be based on the actual life of Jim Bowie but is questionable as far its accuracy. Some historians even note that it was one of Jim’s brothers who designed the famous knife and not him.
Mom (Sarah Selby) allows her son Jim Bowie, after he wins a competition with his other two brothers, in 1825, to leave Bayou Sara, Louisiana, and go to New Orleans to sell the lumber from their family sawmill. As soon as Jim arrives in New Orleans he meets French painter James Audubon (George Voskovec), who pissed-off the wealthy de Bornay family by running off to the woods to paint birds instead of completing his portrait of Judalon de Bornay (Virginia Mayo). Her brother Narcisse (Douglas Dick) challenges Jim to a duel for having the audacity to speak up for the artist. Jim somehow is able to use his wit to call off the duel, and soon becomes friends with Narcisse and pursues his beautiful but spoiled sister Judalon. She turns down his marriage proposal, not prepared to marry someone not from the upper-class of French-American society.
Henri Contrecourt (Ned Young), another suitor of Judalon, accuses Jim of insulting her and challenges him to a duel. When Narcisse intervenes, he’s killed when confronting Contrecourt. Jim, in the film’s best action scene, faces Contrecourt, an excellent swordsman, with Jim armed only with his knife and his opponent with a sword, as they fight in a darkened chamber. Surprisingly Jim kills Contrecourt. Afterwards Jim sells the family lumber mill for a healthy profit and talks his family into buying bayou land to raise cotton, which leads to great wealth. Then Jim must try to stave off rival Natchez cotton grower Juan Moreno (Joseph Calleia) and his attempt to crush his business. Jim buys a racehorse and beats Moreno’s horse in a race, and collects on the bets from Moreno supporters. But Jim expects trouble from Moreno and hires the blacksmith named Black (David Wolfe) to make him the special durable knife he designed.
Meanwhile Judalon has married Philippe de Cabanal (Alf Kjellin), but wants a divorce. Moreno and his cronies appear and start shooting at Jim and his supporters, as Jim knifes him to death. This upsets Judalon because Moreno promised to secure a bill of divorcement for her. Judalon then talks Jim into getting her husband released from jail over a gambling death with Bloody Jack” Sturdevant (Tony Caruso), and in return promises to go with him to Texas. Then Jim injures Bloody Jack in a knife duel, but the cold-hearted Judalon reneges on her promise and remains with her husband.
En route to Texas, Bloody Jack’s men jump Jim and leave him injured. The Spanish daughter of the Texas vice governor, Ursula de Veramendi (Phyllis Kirk), finds Jim and nurses him back to health. Jim then returns to Louisiana to sell his lands and observes how Phillippe and Bloody Jack accidentally kill each other, and discovers he no longer lusts after Judalon when she expresses joy over her hubby’s death. Returning to San Antonio, Jim marries Ursula and the rest is history.
REVIEWED ON 6/8/2013 GRADE: C