Directed by Raul Walsh Tuesday, July 31 at BAM
Max Steiner's score for Pursued is brash, triumphally melodramatic and the best thing about an all-around terrific western. Directed by Raoul Walsh and produced by Warner Brothers in 1947, Pursued is a hallmark of the dark turn studio-produced A-picture westerns took after WWII. Walsh's film precedes similarly psychologically rich noir/western hybrids like The Naked Spur (1953) and Vera Cruz (1954). And like those two later films, Pursued follows, if you'll pardon the pun, a good man tormented by the violence in his past. Jeb (Robert Mitchum) is the sole survivor of a brutal massacre. And with the help of Steiner's operatic score and Walsh's keen eye for composition, that event, as the film's title suggests, follows him everywhere.
As much as other artists contribute to the film—including cinematographer James Wong Howe's manipulation of shadow, screenwriter Niven Busch's engrossing scenario and Mitchum's turn as the sullen Jeb—Steiner is Pursued's MVP. His use of aural leitmotifs is especially effective. Staccato horn blasts appropriately accompany the silver spurs that stomp through Jeb's hazy memories. And when an adult Jeb first meets the one-armed badman that's hellbent on killing him, Steiner masterfully underlines the tension of the moment by allowing his orchestra's string section to creep in, quietly ramping up the scene's intensity. If the legend is true, then it's oddly fitting that Pursued was the last film Jim Morrison saw before he died. Steiner's score surely stayed with the haunted head until his abrupt demise.