Barbara Stanwyck, in boots, leather and ponytail, climbs the jagged mountain and greets the cowboy who had welcomed her with dislodged boulders: "You play with big marbles." She never got to play Electra, just as Anthony Mann never officially filmed Lear: This sagebrush stunner realizes both dreams, and then some. The heroine is "a filly who’s never had a rope on her," her father (Walter Huston) lords over the eponymous ranch and likes to prove his vitality by wrestling bulls. Wendell Corey’s saturnine gambler and Gilbert Roland’s dignified squatter are the men in Stanwyck’s life, but the lacerating l’amour fou is between father and daughter, each seeing their ruthlessness reflected in the other, both "in love with hate." The structure is a circular exchange of pain, characters take over roles, mete out punishment, are crushed by shadows from the past. The stormy tomboy dons her dead mother’s dress and, in a shot set to outdo Cagney on mamma’s lap in White Heat, eagerly complies when her father tells her to scratch his spinal scar. The graying paterfamilias still roars, but realizes only too late that he’s the buffalo being ridden by the cowgirl engraved on his IOUs. Mann’s skylines are dark gray and cloudless, the household is a mausoleum; Blanche Yurka as the "old witch" perched defiantly on the hilltop provides a cackling counterpart to Huston’s monstrous patriarchy and, posed in dusky close-ups, also a note from ˇQue Viva Mexico! When Stanwyck slashes the face of the widow trying to usurp her place (Judith Anderson), Huston retaliates by stringing up Roland -- Mann carves a severe-beautiful tableau out of it, with stark lines (horizon, broken fences, cacti in full erection), Stanwyck’s rousing frenzy, and a tersely panning camera that gives just enough of the hanging to make it ghastly. A decisive building block for the Stewart westerns, but with an Athena-like force of its own ("Hope you can chew what you just bit off," the heroine tells her suitor). Cinematography by Victor Milner. With Thomas Gomez, Albert Dekker, John Bromfield, Beulah Bondi, Wallace Ford, Charles Evans, and Arthur Hunnicutt. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce