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Paramount Home Video presents
Track of the Cat: Special Collector's Edition (1954)

"Well, I've got the proper medicine for that cat. A .3030 slug right between the eyes. That'll kill him for sure."
- Curt Bridges (Robert Mitchum)

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: June 30, 2006

Stars: Robert Mitchum, Tab Hunter, Beulah Bondi, Teresa Wright, Philip Tonge, Diana Lynn
Other Stars: William Hopper, Carl Switzer
Director: William A. Wellman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (thematic content)
Run Time: 01h:42m:39s
Release Date: June 06, 2006
UPC: 097368876842
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C C-CB- C+

DVD Review

Man's struggle to survive against the elements is one of the most compelling conflicts in art. It's a concept rich in psychology and morality, with a seemingly endless number of approaches to the material. William A. Wellman's Track of the Cat, based on Walter Van Tilburg Clark's novel, tackles the subject from the perspective of a family isolated from civilization. The Bridges live a spartan life in 19th-century America, forging a cattle ranch on the unforgiving frontier terrain. As the winter's first snow falls, the Bridges must contend not only with an unseen predator but also with their own demons.

The premise is quite tantalizing, suggesting that the film will offer a deeply psychological portrait of humanity's relationship to Nature. Curt Bridges (Robert Mitchum) is an aggressive, violent man who wishes to control the land, as well as his family, in an attempt to satisfy his own desires. Aided by the family's mother (Beulah Bondi), Curt demeans his brothers as he sets out to kill a panther that is spooking their stock. Older brother Arthur (William Hopper) is Curt's polar opposite. Along with their ranchhand, the Indian Joe Sam (Carl Switzer), Arthur takes a more passive approach to his surroundings. When the two depart on their hunt, it is readily apparent that Arthur is unable to survive in the wilderness.

The frosty interior of the Bridges' home ia as brutal as the winter cold outside. Grace (Teresa Wright), who never married, exudes a bitterness towards Curt. Contrary to her mother's stern and hostile religiosity, Grace supports the budding relationship between younger brother Harold (Tab Hunter) and Gwen (Diana Lynn), a well-to-do girl that may very well bring a sense of decency to the homestead. The family's alcoholic father (Philip Tonge) is so out of touch with the world that he barely knows who he's speaking with most of the time.

A.I. Bezzerides' script places most of its emphasis on the Bridges homestead. The result plays something like Long Day's Journey Into Night, minus the astute observations of O'Neill's play. The themes about Man needing to strike a balance with Nature, as well as with his own life, are handled in a trite manner. The characters come across as two-dimensional, and do not interact in believable ways. When familial emotions run high, usually people shut down entirely or blow up and hurl a barrage of expletives. Rarely, though, does anyone deliver a polished speech—a feat that every person in this story accomplishes on multiple occasions. When Curt and Grace bicker over Harold's rights to the land, the dialogue sounds like melodrama leftovers.

The family drama never captures one's attention. Considering the talented cast, this is a bit of a surprise. Robert Mitchum is one of my favorite actors, but his work here is rather unconvincing. When the threat of death creeps upon him and fear engulfs Curt, Mitchum seems to only be going through the motions. Beulah Bondi delivers one of the most unimpressive turns of her career. Seeming more a nuisance than a tyrant, her work here is an unfortunate spot on a fine career. The rest of the cast doesn't fair much better, especially Carl Switzer. With some of the worst old-age makeup in history, Switzer's Joe Sam is an offensively stereotypical portrait of our nation's indigenous people.

Director Wellman is one of the most underrated American directors. Usually directing with undeniable skill and a keen eye, Wellman makes numerous awkward decisions here. The most distracting aspect of the production is the CinemaScope image. Using wide-angle lenses, cinematographer William H. Clothier distorts the image in unpleasant matters that I suppose were meant to reflect the family's turmoil, but ultimately reminds the audience that everything is staged. One decision that does work, however, is the minimal use of color. Although shot in WarnerColor, Wellman keeps the palette simple, creating a stark visual tone that is almost black and white. It's an experiment that may not be entirely successful (especially since Curt wears a bright red jacket), but it does convey the story's themes about isolation and survival nicely.

Still, it's all for naught. Any point the filmmakers have to make is made early on and I found myself simply not caring about the Bridges' family struggle or Curt's hunt for the cat. If mankind's existence is as bleak as Track of the Cat, maybe we should root for nature to wipe us all out.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.55:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.55:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer definitely shows the film's age. Print defects are commonplace and there's a soft appearance to the whole picture. Skin tones are accurate and detail is adequate, but the image is quite average on the whole.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 4.0 audio track is nothing particularly special, either. Some sound separation occurs across the front sound stage, but the mix as a whole is quite front heavy and lacking in dynamic range. Dialogue is always audible and I didn't notice any hiss or crackling. A Dolby Stereo 2.0 mix is also available.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The John Wayne DVD Collection, Batjac Montage
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Tab Hunter, Frank Thompson, William Wellman, Jr.
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:57m:01s

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery—a collection of still images from the movie.
Extras Review: The special features begin with a feature-length commentary by William Wellman, Jr., actor Tab Hunter, and Wellman biographer Frank Thompson. The three of them spend most of their time discussing Wellman's directing style, with Hunter offering some nice anecdotes about working with him on the set. The track isn't as informative as I would've hoped, with the three men largely making pedantic comments and only occasionally offering substantial insight.

Next is the four-part documentary The Making of Track of the Cat (42m:08s). The first part, Remembering William Wellman, features interviews with Robert Mitchum, Wellman's son, and others who knew him. It offers some brief analysis of his work on the movie, but mostly focuses on his personality and career as a whole. The remaining parts of the documentary focus more specifically on the Track of the Cat's themes and, quite frankly, get a bit preachy about environmental causes. The documentary doesn't dish out too much information on the production, which comes as a disappointment.

Rounding out the special features are trailers for the John Wayne DVD Collection and Batjac Montage, as well as a brief photo gallery, consisting solely of publicity stills of the cast and director, which is a fitting summation of this disc's supplemental material.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Track of the Cat: Special Collector's Edition will be a welcomed release to its devoted followers, but it isn't likely to win any converts. The image and sound transfers aren't impressive and the special features don't offer much to merit a purchase.


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