It begins with Victor McLaglen out of the sands in a foretaste of The Lost Patrol, the Irish exile’s homecoming is The Quiet Man but for a small difference: "I’ve got to kill a man." County Wicklow is a rolling panorama with a cursed mansion rising out of the lagoon, from its towers reflected in the waters underneath John Ford dissolves to indoor flames licking the bottom of the frame, and there’s the old hanging magistrate (Hobart Bosworth). (Silhouetted gallows and screaming faces materialize in his fireplace, a projection screen for a lifetime of terrors.) Glowering justice now feebly awaits its own verdict, though not before making sure that the dutiful daughter (June Collyer) marries the fancy-pants informer (Earle Foxe) instead of her sweetheart (Larry Kent). "A blight on yer house," scream the locals, hence the affable Reaper arriving from the Foreign Legion to settle the score. There’s more than a hint of the gothic in this studio pastoral: Marriages are mistaken for funerals, British troopers are a constant presence, infernal intimations abound. And yet McLaglen saunters through the misty set dressed in monkish robes, with the camera tracking by his side for one of the filmmaker’s early jests on Murnau. The Saint Stephen’s Day steeplechase, with its rhythmic crisscross of leaping horses (and a glimpse of the vibrant young John Wayne literally tearing into his ten-second cameo in the audience), is a little tour de force that finds its way into Marnie’s fox hunt. "A great yellow stain on the green of Ireland" finally goes up in black smoke, the heiress watches the pyre with a relieved smile, a climax reprised in many a vampire film. Pure Ford all the way to the avenger who leaves the happy ending he helped bring about and returns to the desert, Ethan Edwards avant la lettre by three decades or nearly. Cinematography by George Schneiderman. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce